Recently, there’s been much debate among infectious disease and public health experts over the risks of Zika Virus during the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Choosing whether or not to travel to a Zika-affected area is a personal decision, but the WHO currently advises that only pregnant women and those planning a pregnancy should avoid travelling to these areas. For travellers and sports fans eager to soak up the Olympic spirit in Rio, here are some things to keep in mind as you plan your trip.
Olympic Travel Health Countdown
6 weeks before departure
- Visit your health provider or travel clinic: We suggest you book an appointment 6 weeks before your trip, but it’s better to go late than not at all. Even vaccines administered just before departure offer some protection.
- Vaccines: Are your routine immunizations up to date? This is a good chance to make sure you’re protected against illnesses like measles and tetanus, which are present all over the world. The Hepatitis A vaccine is also recommended for a trip to Rio de Janeiro. Other vaccines such as Yellow Fever, Rabies, and Typhoid may be recommended if you’re travelling to other parts of Brazil. (Find the details here.)
UPDATE: As of June 2016, a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate is required for travellers coming from Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Travellers must be vaccinated at least 10 days prior to arrival in Brazil.
- Prescription medication and pre-existing conditions: Do you take prescription medication? Now’s the time to make sure you’ll have enough medication for your trip. For specific advice about travelling with prescription medication, read our tipsheet here. If you take narcotic or psychotropic medications, travel with a letter from your doctor describing your condition and treatment plan. Brazil allows travellers to bring a limited personal supply of certain narcotic and psychotropic medications with a valid prescription. See the International Narcotics Control Board for medication restrictions in Brazil.
If you have a pre-existing condition and require equipment (like oxygen or a mobility device), start making arrangements now.
- Insurance: If you’re not already insured, consider buying travel health insurance. It’s important to read the fine print to ensure that you are covered, especially if you have a pre-existing condition.
- Malaria: There is no risk of Malaria in Rio, but antimalarial medication may be recommended if you’re travelling to other areas of Brazil. See the latest recommendations for Brazil.
- Other health risks: If you are planning to visit other areas of the country, there are other health risks to consider depending on your destinations and type of travel. See a complete list here.
1-2 weeks before departure
- Pack your travel first aid kit. Don’t forget to include any prescription medications.
- Pack insect repellent. Repellents containing 20-30% DEET or 20% Picaridin are the most effective.
- If applicable: Start taking antimalarials (following your health provider’s instructions).
While you’re in Brazil
- Prevent insect bites. Zika Virus, Dengue, and Chikungunya are currently circulating in Rio. All three viruses are transmitted by daytime-biting Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.
Take meticulous anti-mosquito bite measures:
- Use an insect repellent with DEET or Picaridin on exposed skin. Re-apply throughout the day following the manufacturer’s directions.
- Wear loose, light-weight, light-coloured, long-sleeved clothing (weather-permitting). Beige, tan, white, and light-grey are good choices.
- Sleep under a bed net if you rest during the day.
If you’re visiting malarious areas in Brazil, sleep under a bed net at night.
- Always practice safer sex. Use a condom to protect yourself and partners against sexually transmitted infections (including Zika Virus). See our Zika Virus page for the latest WHO recommendations.
- Boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it! To prevent illnesses like Traveller’s Diarrhea and Hepatitis A, be mindful of your food and water. Check if you can drink the water at your hotel or accommodation. Water may be contaminated with E. coli bacteria, so choose reputable brands of bottled water or disinfect water before drinking it. As for food, choose dishes that are freshly made and steaming hot or fruit that you can peel yourself.
Try to avoid foods that contain these items, especially outside Rio:
- Dairy (which may not be pasteurized)
- Ice (which may be made with contaminated water)
- Salads (which may have been rinsed with contaminated water)
- Pre-cut fruit (which may pick up bacteria and viruses during preparation)
These recommendations also apply to street foods!
- Washing your hands often and thoroughly will go a long way toward keeping you healthy. Use soap and water or, if not available, an alcohol-based sanitizer.
- Road accidents are common in Brazil. Always wear a seatbelt in vehicles and a helmet on motorcycles, bicycles, and mopeds. Avoid overcrowded and top-heavy buses.
- Find out about local water conditions before you swim. Check for pollution and water conditions like strong currents before you swim in the ocean. Many beaches and waterways near Rio are known to be polluted with sewage and other contaminants. Avoid swimming in fresh water due to the risk of Schistosomiasis. Schistosomiasis is a parasitic infection transmitted by snails that live in rivers, lakes, streams, and ponds. The full extent of Schistosomiasis risk in Brazil is unknown, especially in the Amazon Basin.
After your trip
If you have diarrhea, fever, or flu-like symptoms after you return home, don’t ignore your symptoms: Visit your healthcare provider promptly to rule out serious illnesses like Malaria and Typhoid Fever. A post-trip follow up could save your life!
Need a doctor?
If you need to see a doctor during your trip, you can contact an IAMAT-affiliated physician anytime. We have English-speaking doctors in Rio de Janeiro (Ipanema and Tijuca), Buzios, and São Paulo.
By Daphne Hendsbee.
Photo by Mali Markus Maeder (Pexels).