What is Bacterial Diarrhea?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
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Several different types of infectious bacteria can cause individuals to suffer from diarrhea. Bacteria usually enter the body after a person ingests contaminated water or foods such as undercooked meat or produce that has not been thoroughly washed. The most common forms of bacterial diarrhea result from ingesting strains Campylobacter jejuni, Salmonella, or Escherichia coli. An infected person can expect to experience frequent bouts of watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, and dehydration. Most instances of bacterial diarrhea go away on their own in about a week, though severe cases may need to be treated with antibiotics.

Bacterial diarrhea is a common ailment of adventurers and travelers. A hiker can become infected if he or she drinks stagnant water from a lake or stream without boiling it first. Even public drinking water sources in many developing countries may contain trace amounts of bacteria that are especially devastating to travelers. Locals often build up immunity to the contents of their water, but visitors' bodies are not equipped to fight off the bacteria. Other bacterial sources include raw or undercooked meats and produce that is tainted with feces and fertilizer.


A person usually experiences severe stomach cramps within two to four days of an infection. Frequent episodes of diarrhea are common, even as often as every half hour. Bacterial diarrhea is typically watery and may contain blood. If dehydration sets in, an individual might start to feel fatigued and come down with a fever. Since the condition can be contagious, it is very important for a person to wash his or her hands frequently and avoid handling others' food.

Depending on the type and amount of a bacteria that is ingested, an infection can last anywhere from three to eight days. Most instances do not require medical attention, though it is important to stay as hydrated as possible. Individuals should drink water and fluids that contain electrolytes to help replenish their supply of nutrients. A sufferer should seek medical attention if symptoms become unbearable or last for more than one week, as more serious problems such as meningitis can result from a weakened immune system.

During an appointment, a doctor can pinpoint the cause of bacterial diarrhea by collecting and analyzing stool cultures. Once a specific bacterium is identified, the physician may prescribe an oral antibiotic and recommend a follow-up appointment to make sure that symptoms subside. In addition, the doctor can provide information on ways to avoid infection in the future. Travelers can bring their own water with them on trips, and individuals can take extra care when cleaning, handling, and cooking food.


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Post 3

I had bacterial diarrhea last week. I was not planning on going to the hospital but the diarrhea was very severe. I started worrying about dehydration and decided to go to the ER. I was given a serum at the ER with antibiotics. I think they gave me something for diarrhea as well because the diarrhea stopped shortly afterward. I'm glad I went to the hospital that night.

Post 2

@fBoyle-- It definitely happens in developed countries. Several restaurants had to pull some of their food items from the menu in 2014 due to E. coli contaminated ingredients. The same thing happened a few years before with a chain restaurant and salmonella. Quite a few people were very ill with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, many were hospitalized.

Post 1

I saw a film recently where Americans were outsourcing a call center to India. The American manager arrived in India and he had a pop-sickle as soon as he arrived because it was very hot. Consequently he developed bacterial diarrhea. The other manager arrived a few weeks later, and ironically also had a pop-sickle outside of the airport an developed bacterial diarrhea as well.

I'm not trying to stereotype India. India is definitely not the only country where food poisoning occurs. I think this happens all the time to travelers who visit developing countries just as the article mentioned. It's partly due to contaminated water and unhygienic practices in these areas and partly due to lack of immunity in travelers to different bacteria. But it can happen in developed countries too.

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