Cipro is used to treat a laundry list of bacterial infections, including anthrax, a number of bone and joint infections, and most relevant for travelers, bacterial diarrhea. It is the atomic bomb of antibiotics.
Widely prescribed for a variety of infections, cipro has lost its potency over recent years. Some strains of bacteria have become resistant. This is what typically happens when bacteria get to face off against an antibiotic with frequency – at some point, a mutated form of the bacteria will emerge and cipro won’t be able to handle it. For now, cipro remains a standard in your travel health arsenal. Read the tips here to better understand where and how to get cipro, and how to take it responsibly.
Do you Need Cipro?
Depends on where you are traveling. If you are heading to any developing world country, we would strongly recommend bringing it along. If you are traveling to a first world country, you can do without it.
How do you get cipro?
It is possible to get a cipro prescription before traveling. If you are taking cipro for the first time, I would schedule a consultation at a travel health clinic. If you are taking other prescription drugs, cipro may interfere with them. Also, you may be allergic to fluoroquinolone antibiotics (cipro is an antibiotic within this class). Finally, a doctor at a travel health clinic will be able to answer any specific questions you have about dosage and use.
If you have experience taking cipro responsibly, you can buy it without a prescription in almost any developing world pharmacy. I buy a generic version when I am in West Africa for as little as $4 a box, much cheaper than what you would pay in a first world country, depending on your health insurance (if you have it).
What should cipro be taken for?
The primary reason cipro is a travel health essential is because of its effectiveness in dealing with intestinal bacterial infections, otherwise known as traveler’s diarrhea.
It should not, however, be taken at the onset of diarrhea (doing so contributes to bacterial resistance of the antibiotic). It should be used as a last resort. If diarrhea lasts for longer than three days, cipro can be taken twice daily, once in the morning, once in the evening (typically a 500mg dose each time), for three days. Again, if you are taking it for the first time, you should consult a doctor at a travel health clinic before using it.
Keep in mind that cipro does not treat all forms of diarrhea. Amoebic dysentery, for example, requires a different set of drugs. If you are experiencing other symptoms besides the diarrhea, such as fever or blood or mucous in your stool, you should get to a clinic asap. Cipro will only treat bacterial forms of traveler’s diarrhea.
Typically, cipro will provide relief within 24 hours after the first two doses (500 mg each). If you find yourself not improving after two days of taking cipro, you should go to a clinic. You could have a bacteria resistant to the antibiotic or you might have a non-bacterial disease. Examples of non-bacterial GI diseases would include amoebic dysentery and giardia, although there is some evidence now that cipro can treat giardia as well (you can read up on this here, but we would insist that you talk to a doctor before trying this as a treatment for giardia).
For more on traveler’s diarrhea see our post titled How to Prevent and Treat Traveler’s Diarrhea.
Cipro is destructive and it will kill good bacteria in addition to bad. It is for this reason that we strongly recommended taking probiotics to restore the beneficial bacteria in your gut.