Travelers' Health — South America
Food and waterborne diseases are the number one cause of illness in travelers. Travelers' diarrhea can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites, which are found throughout the region and can contaminate food or water. Infections may cause diarrhea and vomiting (E. coli, Salmonella, cholera and parasites), fever (typhoid fever and toxoplasmosis) or liver damage (hepatitis). Make sure your food and drinking water are safe.
Malaria is a preventable infection that can be fatal if left untreated. Prevent infection by taking prescription anti-malaria drugs and protecting yourself against mosquito bites. Malaria risk in this region exists in some urban and many rural areas, depending on elevation. For specific locations, see Malaria Information for Travelers to Tropical South America.
A certificate of yellow fever vaccination may be required for entry into certain countries. For detailed information, see Yellow Fever Comprehensive Vaccination Requirements.
If you visit the Andes Mountains, ascend gradually to allow time for your body to adjust to the high altitude, which can cause insomnia, headaches, nausea, and altitude sickness. In addition, use sun block rated at least 15 SPF, because the risk of sunburn is greater at high altitudes.
Dengue, filariasis, leishmaniasis, onchocerciasis and American trypanosomiasis (Chagas' disease) are other diseases carried by insects that also occur in this region. Protecting yourself against insect bites will help to prevent these diseases.
Because motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of injury among travelers, walk and drive defensively. Avoid nighttime travel if possible and always use seat belts.
CDC Recommends the Following Vaccines (as appropriate for age):
- See your doctor at least 4–6 weeks before your trip to allow time for immunizations to take effect.
- Hepatitis A or immune globulin (IG).
- Hepatitis B, if you might be exposed to blood (for example, health-care workers), have sexual contact with the local population, stay more than 6 months in the region or be exposed through medical treatment.
- Rabies, if you might be exposed to wild or domestic animals through your work or recreation.
- Typhoid, particularly if you are visiting developing countries in this region.
- Yellow fever vaccination, if you will be traveling outside urban areas.
- As needed, booster doses for tetanus-diphtheria and measles. Hepatitis B vaccine is now recommended for all infants and for children ages 11–12 years who did not complete the series as infants.
To Stay Healthy:
- Wash hands frequently with soap and water.
- Drink only bottled or boiled water, or carbonated (bubbly) drinks in cans or bottles. Avoid tap water, fountain drinks and ice cubes. If this is not possible, make water safer by BOTH filtering through an "absolute 1-micron or less" filter AND adding iodine tablets to the filtered water. "Absolute 1-micron filters" are found in camping/outdoor supply stores.
- Eat only thoroughly cooked food or fruits and vegetables you have peeled yourself. Remember: BOIL IT, COOK IT, PEEL IT OR FORGET IT!
- If you will be visiting an area where there is risk for malaria, take your malaria prevention medication before, during, and after travel, as directed. (See your doctor for a prescription.)
- Protect yourself from insects by remaining in well-screened areas, using repellents (applied sparingly at >4-hour intervals) and permethrin-impregnated mosquito nets and wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants from dusk through dawn.
- To prevent fungal and parasitic infections, keep feet clean and dry. Don't go barefoot.
- Always use condoms to reduce the risk of HIV and other STDs.
To Avoid Getting Sick:
- Don’t eat food purchased from street vendors.
- Don’t drink beverages with ice.
- Don’t eat dairy products unless you know they have been pasteurized.
- Don’t share needles with anyone.
- Don’t handle animals (especially monkeys, dogs, and cats), to avoid bites and serious diseases (including rabies).
- Don’t swim in fresh water. Salt water is usually safer.
What You Need To Bring with You:
- Long-sleeved shirt and long pants to wear while outside whenever possible, to prevent illnesses carried by insects (e.g., malaria, dengue, filariasis, leishmaniasis, and onchocerciasis).
- Insect repellent containing DEET (diethylmethyltoluamide), in 30%–35% strength for adults and 6%–10% for children, as well as a bed net impregnated with the insecticide permethrin. (Bed nets can be purchased in camping or military supply stores.) Bed nets may also protect against insect bites that transmit Chagas' disease.
- Over-the-counter ant-idiarrheal medicine to take if you have diarrhea.
- Iodine tablets and water filters to purify water if bottled water is not available.
- Sun block, sunglasses and hat.
- Prescription medications: make sure you have enough to last during your trip, as well as a copy of the prescription(s).
After You Return Home:
If you have visited an area where there is risk for malaria, continue taking your malaria medication weekly for 4 weeks after you leave the area. If you become ill with a fever—even as long as a year after your trip—tell your doctor that you traveled to a malarious area.
For More Information:
Ask your doctor or check the Centers for Disease Control Web site for more information about how to protect yourself against diseases that occur in South America.
Be sure to read the information about all the regions you are planning to visit.
CDC Travel Page
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Rd.
Atlanta, GA 30333
(404) 639-3312 (TTY)