The increase in international travel has facilitated the rapid spread of resistant bacteria, which are already highly prevalent in certain countries – notably in water and food products. Several studies have shown that international travellers often come back home with resistant bacteria, whether they have been ill or not.
Holidays in faraway countries are often ruined by so-called tourist’s diarrhoea, a usually innocuous intestinal infection lasting no more than 3 to 4 days. But the responsible bacteria, which may well be antibiotic-resistant, can be brought back to a country such as Switzerland and passed on to vulnerable people. Furthermore, the resistance genes can be transmitted to other bacteria that cause disease.
Sometimes travellers ask their doctor for a prescription of antibiotics before setting off on a trip overseas, with a view to treating a possible case of diarrhoea by themselves. Self-medication with antibiotics should only be envisaged as a last resort: most cases of diarrhoea resolve spontaneously, and drinking plenty of fluids is the treatment of choice. It should be borne in mind that antibiotics also have adverse effects on the intestinal flora. Indeed, taking antibiotics in areas where antibiotic resistance is high (such as south-east Asia) may well result in encouraging the development of these resistant bacteria in the gut.