Diarrhoea is a frequent symptom associated with travelling to tropical regions, but the cause is often not found. Epidemiology was assessed including up-to-date real-time PCR approaches.
We analysed datasets of 528 patients who presented at the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, Germany, between 2006 and 2010 for screening purposes or because of diarrhoea. Stool samples were obtained and investigated by microscopy, bacterial culture, two PCR assays targeting Entamoeba histolytica, Entamoeba dispar, Giardia duodenalis, and Cryptosporidium parvum, or Salmonella spp., Shigella/EIEC spp., Campylobacter jejuni, and Yersinia spp.
Among patients with gastrointestinal symptoms, 51% tested positive for bacteria or parasites, of which 66% had a known enteropathogenic potential. In patients without diarrhoea, 53% ( n = 80) were positive, and 33% of these cases harboured agents of pathogenic potential. Association with clinical symptoms was primarily found for bacterial infections. Blastocystis hominis, however, was more frequent in asymptomatic than in symptomatic travellers.
In conclusion, the study stresses the etiological relevance of bacterial gastroenteritis in travellers returning from the tropics, the need for molecular approaches to increase diagnostic sensitivity and demonstrates that asymptomatic carriage of enteropathogens after prolonged stays in the tropics is similarly frequent compared with symptomatic infections in travellers.