Dysentery: Don’t Let it Ruin Your Time Abroad

Dysentery is a common problem for expatriates moving abroad.  Poor sanitation is often the cause, but following a few simple tips you can avoid serious illness.  Most people have experienced some form of stomach infection at one point in their lives, usually when they have been overseas in a new environment. The symptoms usually include diarrhoea, in its most extreme form this becomes Dysentery – the after effects can last for several years. Dysentery is a highly contagious bacterial infection, which is spread by poor hygiene. It is usually spread by hand to mouth transfer from person to person, or from surfaces which have been contaminated by an infected person.

Outbreaks are more likely to occur in overcrowded areas where poor hygiene practices exist. Travellers and expatriates beware! It’s far more likely to happen to those people travelling to new areas, particularly Latin America, Africa, Middle East and Asia. Also, people are far more likely to develop Dysentery in a new geographical area, not only because of poor hygiene but because of the lack of immunity. Symptoms usually appear between six hours and three days after infection. They include watery diarrhoea, sometimes with blood and mucus. This is usually accompanied by nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever and general malaise.

To reduce the risk of developing Dysentery, travellers should observe the following basic rules:• Wash your hands after using the toilet, after contact with an infected person and regularly throughout the day.• Wash your hands before handling, cooking, and eating food, handling babies and feeding young or elderly people.• Keep contact with someone known to have dysentery to a minimum.• Wash laundry on the hottest setting possible• Avoid sharing items such as towels and face cloths Usually, dysentery clears after a few days and no treatment is needed. However, it is important to replace any fluids that have been lost through diarrhoea. If you’re unfortunate enough to develop this condition, then make sure you rest and drink plenty of fluids. Water, fruit juice and isotonic (sports) drinks that replace salts and minerals are best. Avoid contact with other people until you have been symptom free for at least 48 hours. In severe cases, antibiotic treatment or hospital admission for intravenous therapy is necessary.

If you have amoebic dysentery, your GP may prescribe an antibiotic called metronidazole. As ever with medication, make sure you complete the prescribed course. After this treatment has finished, you should then take a course of diloxanide (a drug that kills the amoeba). Since most cases of dysentery are short, antibiotics are only used if the dysentery does not clear up on its own.

Antibiotics can also be used to stop the spread of dysentery to other people if there is a high risk. Debbie Purser, CEO at April International UK said: “Those moving abroad should be especially cautious when visiting to larger cities with poor hygiene and should follow all the preventative measures outlined above. If you are unlucky enough to be struck down by this condition, despite following these guidelines, make sure you drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. If the condition persists, ask for a doctor, as the condition may deteriorate without enough salts and fluid in the body. Travellers are particularly at risk as their immunity is very low if they are visiting a new area. All of April International UK’s policies cover treatment costs relating to Dysentery and our 24 hour helpline is there so you’re always in safe hands, should medical assistance be needed. Our priority is to look after the health of our policyholders and to avoid any illness from getting any worse. A critical part of this is speed of response and our helpline can respond rapidly, wherever you are in the world.