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 Staying Healthy in South America

South America is a very diverse collection of desitnations and as such presents a diverse range of travel health considerations.

Pre-travel preparation will help protect your health while you are away. We have prepared a summary of major health risks you may face while travelling.

  • Check your basic immunisations such as Tetanus and Diptheria are up-to-date.
  • Discuss with a Travel Doctor specialist whether Hepatitus A and Typhoid should be considered.
  • Yellow Fever vaccincation certificates are required for all travellers returning to Australia from South America.
  • Altitude sickness or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is a consideration for travel to South America. Many recreational trips to South America involve travel at altitude e.g. Cuzco, Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca and La Paz. It is important to plan the itinerary carefully to minimise rapid ascent.

We advise you consult a Travel Doctor specialist prior to departure to assess these risks in relation to your medical history and your travel plans.

Hepatitis A This is a viral disease of the liver which is transmitted through eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water. it is the most common vaccine preventable disease that occurs in travellers to less developed areas of the world. It is strongly recommended for travel to South America.
Hepatitis B This is a viral disease of the liver that is transmitted via blood, blood products or bodily fluids. It is vaccine preventable and now part of the childhood immunisation schedule. Many adults may have missed this important vaccine and travel is a good reason to get up-to-date. It is particularly recommended if you are a frequent traveller or on an extended trip.
Typhoid Typhoid Fever is caused by a bacteria found in contaminated food and water. It is endemic in the developing world and vaccination is recommended for travellers to areas where environmental sanitation and personal hygiene may be poor.
Tetanus, Whooping Cough and Diphtheria

Tetanus is caused by a toxin released by a common dust or soil bacteria which enters the body through a wound.

Diphtheria is a bacterial infection of the throat and occasionally the skin. It is found world wide and is transmitted from person-to-person by coughing and sneezing.

Whooping Cough (Pertussis) is a highly infectuous respiratory infection responsible for 300,000 deaths annually, mainly in children.

Because many adults no longer have immunity from childhood immunisation it is advised that travellers to less developed countries have a tetanus, dihtheria and pertussis booster.

Measles, Mumps & Rubella Childhood immunisation coverage in many developing countries is not good. As such, travellers under the age of 40 years should have their MMR immunisation completed. Those over the age of 40 years are most likely to have long term immunity from previous exposure as a child.
Chickenpox This very comon infectious disease can now be prevented through immunisation. Many people miss the disease in childhood only to have a significant illness as an adult. If you do not have history of immunisation, a simple blood test can show whether you are at risk.
Influenza Individuals intending to travel out of an Australian winter might consider the current flu vaccine at the beginning of the season. exposure to illness in airports and commuter transport is common and exposure may ruin a much needed break.
Malaria Malaria is transmitted by a night biting mosquito. Insect avoidance measures should be followed throughout the trip. In South America the greatest risks are in the Amazon Basin. Although travel may involve countries with malaria, it is common for travel not to involve places where malaria is a real risk - as such The Travel Doctor finds many people taking medications unnecessarily. This has both cost and side effect issues. Always check with travel health specialist to assess the risk and the need for appropriate anti-malarial medications.
Dengue Fever Dengue (pronounced Den-gee) fever is a viral disease with flu like symptoms that is transmitted by mosquitoes. There is no vaccine for dengue fever and prevention is based upon insect avoidance via repellents, nets and insecticides. The mosquito is a day time biter and the risk is greatest in urban areas.
Rabies Rabies is a deadly viral infection of the brain transmitted to humans. The disease itself is rare in travellers, but the risk increases with extended travel and the likelihood of animal contact. The best way to avoid rabies is to avoid all contact with animals. Dogs are the main carriers, however monkeys, bats, cats and other animals may also transmit the disease. Pre-exposure vaccination is recommended for extended travel and those who work with animals.
Yellow Fever Yellow Fever is a serious and frequently fatal viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes. A number of countries in South America are classified as endemic zone for Yellow Fever. Vaccination against Yellow Fever is compulsory for Australias travelling back into Australia from South America.
Travellers' Diarrhoea Up to 40% of tourists may develop diarrhoea wihtin the first week of travel. A variety of germs can be responsible and a Traveller's Medical Kit containing appropriate therapy can rapidly improve the symptoms. It is also important to follow the rules of healthy eating and drinking to minimise risks.