01/14/2013 05:20 EST | Updated 03/16/2013 05:12 EDT

Don't Flush Away Your Vacation


One of the busiest travel times of the year is upon us, and about 3.5 million Canadians will head to a destination like Mexico or the Caribbean. As they plan their trips, it's important for vacationers to make sure they take the right steps to prevent one the most common illnesses contracted in tropical destinations -- traveller's diarrhea.

Despite their best intentions, up to 98 per cent of Canadian travellers make a food or water mistake within the first three days of their vacation. Up to one-in-five vacationers will get sick with traveller's diarrhea and are bed-ridden for an entire day, and its symptoms can last up five days -- this is time that many would rather spend sight-seeing, swimming in the ocean or doing a plethora of other activities.

Canadians may be surprised to learn that the bacteria that causes traveller's diarrhea can be contracted from many common sources encountered during their vacations, particularly when visiting Mexico, and to a lesser extent the Caribbean, which are moderate to high risk locations for contracting the disease.

A recent survey indicates that not all Canadians are savvy about the potential sources of the bacteria that cause traveller's diarrhea. Bacterial pathogens, which include enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC) bacteria, are thought to cause the majority (80 per cent) of travellers' diarrhea cases. Sources of ETEC bacteria can include poorly cooked meat, contaminated raw vegetables, unpasteurized dairy products and water. No food group can be regarded as "safe."

For example, according to the survey, 77 per cent of those Canadians who have experienced traveller's diarrhea know that ice cubes in a drink are a potential source of the bacteria that causes the illness, but interestingly, only two per cent think tap water presents the same risk.

However, traveller's diarrhea can be prevented, so Canadians must learn how to protect themselves before they depart for their trip. One example of a preventative measure is speaking to a travel health expert, physician or pharmacist about Dukoral, an oral vaccine that is taken in a two-dose schedule, with the first at least two weeks before departure.

To keep their vacation pesos in their pockets, Canadians planning a getaway should remember these tips for preventing travellers' diarrhea:

1. Up Your Water IQ: Tap water can contain the bacteria that can cause travellers' diarrhea. This includes the water you brush your teeth with.

2. Ensure the Cuisine is Clean: Cook it, boil it, peel it - or leave it! According to the survey, many travellers are unaware that some sources of bacteria that cause travellers' diarrhea include slushy cocktails, unpeeled fruit and raw seafood.

3. Before You Leave, Visit a Healthcare Professional: As you plan your trip to Mexico or the Caribbean, speak with a travel health expert or healthcare professional specializing in travel health about ways to protect against travellers' diarrhea caused by enterotoxigenic E. coli bacteria.

4. No Travel Buddy Left Behind: Make sure your friends and family are also protected from travellers' diarrhea before travelling so they don't lose valuable vacation time and money.