Many travellers suffer from gastroenteritis when they first arrive in a foreign holiday destination. You will find it is the most common medical problem for tourists. It has been given a variety of descriptive names such as Delhi Belly, Montezuma’s Revenge, Kathmandu Quickstep or more simply, the runs.
'Enteritis' means inflammation of the intestine and it occurs in various complaints ranging from a short-lived bout of traveller’s diarrhoea, to more serious infections like salmonella food poisoning or dysentery. Inflammation of the stomach lining is called Gastritis. When both the intestine and the stomach lining are infected by a virus, bacteria or parasite, the result is gastroenteritis.
Microbes are by far the most common source of the condition for UK holidaymakers, especially those that cause food poisoning such as campylobacter or E. coli. Bacteria in contaminated food can cause gastroenteritis in one of two ways. The bacteria either directly attack the lining of the stomach and intestine, or they produce poisons which interfere with the absorption of food and the normal digestive processes of the bowel, causing inflammation.
Sometimes gastroenteritis occurs as a result of infections or viruses passed from person-to-person, in the same way in which colds are spread. Holiday companies are therefore quick to blame a virus for illness outbreaks.
The reality is that mild attacks of dysentery are caused by bacteria such as shigella, salmonella and E. coli. These bugs are often responsible for illness outbreaks and are the most likely cause of holiday gastroenteritis. For example, infections can be caused by shigella, passed from one traveller to another by direct contact, especially if hygiene in hotel kitchens is not carried out thoroughly. Infected food handlers are known to cause illness outbreaks at hotels passing bugs such as salmonella and campylobacter.
An early symptom of gastroenteritis is loss of appetite. Nausea and vomiting may ensue and there may also be considerable gripping pain in the abdomen. You may also suffer profuse vomiting, including blood in severe cases.
If you suffer from diarrhoea and stomach cramps as well, the attack could be caused by infection! The stools may be very watery and sometimes they contain blood and slimy material called mucus. These symptoms should be reported to your doctor as soon as practicable.
Suspicions that food poisoning is responsible for illness become stronger when there are a large number of victims at the same hotel. Symptoms may present within a few hours of eating food, but if the infection is caused by bacteria the symptoms may take longer to surface and they may not show themselves for 48 hours.
The diarrhoea and vomiting that occur in an attack of gastroenteritis cause the rapid loss of chemical elements such as sodium and potassium. This deprivation in more serious cases can lead to kidney or liver damage.
The effect of this may also be serious if you are already unwell, elderly or very young as dehydration may ensue and cause further complications.
The first aim in treating gastroenteritis is to restore fluids to the body, particularly in hot tourist destinations. Vomiting may be overcome by taking tepid drinks in very slow sips. This can be followed by weak sweetened tea or citrus fruit juices. If the attack has been caused by a bacterial organism such as salmonella, campylobacter or E. coli, then an antibiotic may be necessary.
If you are told by a hotel doctor that your illness was caused by travelling to a hot and unfamiliar country you should be suspicious if you are then prescribed antibiotics such as Streptoquin, Antinal or Ciprofloxacin. These antibiotics are used to treat bacterial food poisoning and are completely ineffective against viruses or sunshine!
Simpson Millar LLP’s travel solicitors advise all holidaymakers to speak with their doctors and demand a stool sample to identify the cause and treatment necessary. If a bacterial or protozoa infection (cryptosporidium) is identified, contact us about making a compensation claim against your tour operator.
We have helped hundreds of clients who have suffer gastroenteritis on holiday to claim the compensation they deserved from their tour operator.