Traveler’s Diarrhea (Infant/Toddler)

Traveler’s diarrhea is an infection in the intestinal tract. It is usually caused by bacteria called E. coli. These bacteria are often found in water supplies in less developed countries. The local people of those countries are immune to E. coli and don’t get sick. Tourists who drink water or eat foods that were washed or prepared with this water may become very ill.

The illness begins 1 to 3 days after exposure. It can last up to 5 days, or sometimes longer. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, stomach cramps, and watery diarrhea. There may be blood or mucus in the stool. Mild cases will get better without treatment. Antibiotics are used for more severe cases.

The main danger from this illness is dehydration. This is the loss of too much water and minerals from the body. When this happens, body fluids must be replaced. This can be done with oral rehydration solution (ORS). Oral rehydration solution is available at pharmacies and most grocery stores.

Home care

Follow all instructions given by your child’s healthcare provider.

If giving medicine to your child:

  • Don’t give over-the-counter diarrhea medicines unless your child’s healthcare provider tells you to.

  • If antibiotics were prescribed, make sure your child takes them every day until they are finished. Don’t stop giving them if your child feels better. Antibiotics must be taken as a full course.

  • You can use acetaminophen or ibuprofen to control pain and fever. Or, you can use other medicine as prescribed.

  • Sometimes your child's healthcare provider will prescribe medicine to stop the vomiting. Give it only as directed. If the vomiting continues with taking the medicine, contact your child's healthcare provider.

  • Don’t give aspirin to anyone under 18 years of age who has a fever. This may cause liver damage and a life-threatening condition called Reye syndrome.

To prevent the spread of illness:

  • Remember that washing with soap and water is the best way to prevent the spread of infection.

  • Wash your hands before and after caring for your sick child.

  • Clean the toilet after each use.

  • Dispose of soiled diapers in a sealed container.

  • Keep your child out of day care until he or she is cleared by the healthcare provider.

  • Wash your hands before and after preparing food.

  • Wash your hands after using cutting boards, countertops, and knives that have been in contact with raw foods.

  • Keep uncooked meats away from cooked and ready-to-eat foods.

  • Keep in mind that people with diarrhea or vomiting should not prepare food for others.

Giving liquids and feeding

The main goal while treating vomiting or diarrhea is to prevent dehydration. This is done by giving small amounts of liquids often. Liquids are the most important thing. Don’t be in a rush to give food to your child.

If your baby is breastfed:

  • Keep breastfeeding. Feed your child more often than usual.

  • If diarrhea is severe, give oral rehydration solution between feedings.

  • As diarrhea decreases, stop giving oral rehydration solution and resume your normal breastfeeding schedule.

If your baby is bottle-fed:

  • Give small amounts of fluid at a time, especially if your child is vomiting. Give fluid 1 to 2 ounces every 30 minutes. This may improve symptoms.

  • Give full-strength formula or milk. If diarrhea is severe, give oral rehydration solution between feedings.

  • If giving milk and the diarrhea is not getting better, stop giving milk. In some cases, milk can make diarrhea worse. Try soy or rice formula.

  • Don’t give apple juice, soda, or other sweetened drinks. Drinks with sugar can make diarrhea worse.

  • If your child is doing well after 24 hours, resume a regular diet and feeding schedule.

  • If your child starts doing worse with food, go back to clear liquids.

If your child is on solid food:

  • Keep in mind that liquids are more important than food right now. Don’t be in a rush to give food.

  • Don’t force your child to eat, especially if he or she is having stomach pain, cramping, vomiting, or diarrhea.

  • Don’t feed your child large amounts at a time, even if he or she is hungry. This can make your child feel worse. You can give your child more food over time if he or she can tolerate it.

  • Give small amounts at a time, especially if your child is having stomach cramps or vomiting.

  • If you are giving milk to your child and the diarrhea is not going away, stop the milk. In some cases, milk can make diarrhea worse. If that happens, use oral rehydration solution instead.

  • If diarrhea is severe, give ORS between feedings.

  • If your child is doing well after 24 hours, try giving solid foods. These can include cereal, oatmeal, bread, noodles, mashed carrots, mashed bananas, mashed potatoes, applesauce, dry toast, crackers, soups with rice noodles, and cooked vegetables.

  • For a baby over 4 months, as they feel better, you may give cereal, mashed potatoes, applesauce, mashed bananas, or strained carrots, during this time. A baby over 1 year may have crackers, white bread, rice, and other starches.

  • If your child starts doing worse with food, go back to clear liquids.

  • You can resume your child's normal diet over time as he or she feels better. If at the diarrhea or cramping gets worse again, go back to a simple diet or clear liquids.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider, or as advised. If a stool sample was taken or cultures were done, call the healthcare provider for the results as instructed.

Call 911

Call 911 if your child has any of these symptoms:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Confusion

  • Extreme drowsiness or trouble walking

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Stiff neck

  • Seizure

When to call your child's healthcare provider

Call your child’s healthcare provider right away if any of these happen:

  • Belly pain that gets worse

  • Constant lower right belly pain

  • Repeated vomiting after the first 2 hours on liquids

  • Occasional vomiting for more than 24 hours

  • Continued severe diarrhea for more than 24 hours

  • Blood in stool

  • Refusal to drink or feed

  • Dark urine or no urine for 8 hours, no tears when crying, sunken eyes, or dry mouth

  • Fussiness or crying that cannot be soothed

  • Unusual drowsiness

  • New rash

  • More than 8 diarrhea stools within 8 hours

  • Diarrhea lasts more than 1 week on antibiotics

  • A child younger than 12 weeks has a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher

  • Fever of 101.4°F (38.5°C) or higher that doesn’t get lower with medicine

  • A child younger than 2 years has fever for more than 24 hours

  • A child 2 years or older has a fever for more than 3 days

  • A child of any age has repeated fevers above 104°F (40°C)  

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© 2000-2018 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.