Travelling to South America: What You Need to Know
South America holds a variety of popular tourist attractions, and is a popular destination for relief work, missions and work, resulting in a huge influx of people on a regular basis. However, South American countries also hold the highest risk of communicable disease due to higher poverty rates, many rural areas and a disease carrying insects. If you are travelling to South American countries, we recommend doing research about crime rates, possible diseases and recommended vaccinations before you leave. This risk increases if you are travelling through rural areas or staying for extended periods of time. With the help of ABC Travel Clinic, you can be assured of your safety and security, with prior consultation to your trip. Our health care practitioners are meant to provide our clients with the peace of mind that their trips will be safe from disease and other problems. We offer you comprehensive consultations, taking in every aspect of your health requirements, history, trip locations, stay time and purpose to provide you with an immunization and medical plan for the entire duration of your trip.
For extended stays in South America, or even quick vacations, we always recommend the minimum vaccinations. Take the time to research your destination, factoring in your reason for visit to learn more about the associated risks. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention offers an in depth look at each country, and the risks associated with it for travellers.. Below is a general list of the vaccinations you should consider getting before you travel anywhere in South America:
Hepatitis A: This easily transmitted but easily preventable disease is the most commonly contracted preventable disease, and is common in South American countries, especially rural and developing ones. Hepatitis A is spread most often through contaminated food and water, and sometimes through physical contact, and is common throughout developing countries, in rural areas. Symptoms to look out for are fever, jaundice, nausea, vomiting, tiredness and loss of appetite. Vaccination against Hepatitis A is common and virtually eliminates any risk of the disease. Find more information on Hepatitis A vaccination here.
Hepatitis B: This serious viral illness is transmitted through blood products, contaminated medical instruments and unprotected sex. Adventure travellers, missionaries, Peace Corps volunteers and military personnel are most at risk for infection. Symptoms of Hepatitis B include a sudden fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, dark urine, joint pain, and yellowing of the skin and eyes. Certain people may develop chronic, lifelong Hepatitis B, causing early death from liver disease and cancer. The Hepatitis B vaccine is generally given over 6 months, but can be given on an accelerated schedule of 21 days. Find more information about Hepatitis B vaccination here.
Cholera: Cholera is a disease spread by drinking water or eating contaminated food. This disease is incredibly rare in industrialized countries, but occurs in developing countries such as Haiti, the Dominican Republic, along with parts of Asia and Africa. Symptoms of cholera are watery diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. If left untreated it may cause death due to dehydration, though treatment is simple and reduces mortality rate to less than 1%. Find more information about Cholera vaccination here.
Meningitis: Meningococcal meningitis is a serious bacterial infection of the brain, transmitted person to person through respiratory secretions and saliva. This disease occurs everywhere in the world and is often encountered in rural regions of South America. The Meningitis vaccine provides the best protection against this disease. Symptoms of meningitis include sudden fever, headache, and stiff neck, and less commonly nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity and poor reflexes. This bacterium can infect the blood and cause symptoms such as tiredness, vomiting, cold hands and feet, chills, aches and pain, diarrhea and a dark purple rash. In some instances, this disease can be fatal, which is why the vaccine is recommended if travelling to an at-risk area. Find more information about Meningitis vaccination here.
Rabies: Rabies is a deadly and common virus spread in the saliva of infected animals. All mammals can get rabies, and people generally get rabies from licks, bites and scratches from infected animals. Rabies affects the central nervous system and ultimately causes brain disease and death, and is found in all areas of the world where animals can be found. Travellers to rural areas or those working with animals are especially at risk. Even if vaccinated, immediate medical attention upon contraction is necessary. Find more information on Rabies vaccination here.
Typhoid Fever: Typhoid is a serious disease spread through contaminated food and water, and is common in most parts of the world that are not industrialized. Travellers to the developing world, especially Asia, Africa and Latin America are especially at risk. Symptoms of Typhoid include high fever, weakness, stomach pain, headache, loss of appetite and sometimes rash and constipation. In rare cases, internal bleeding and death may occur. Find more information about Typhoid Fever vaccination here.
Yellow Fever: Yellow fever is a disease caused by a virus spread through mosquito bites and is often found in South America and Africa. Symptoms of yellow fever include fever, chills, headache, backache and muscle aches. About 15% of people who get this disease can develop a serious illness that leads to bleeding, shock, organ failure and even death. Most South American countries require proof of vaccination of yellow fever before entry, or re-entry, so plan your travels accordingly. Find more information about Yellow Fever vaccination here.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV): Human Papilloma Virus is the most common sexually transmitted disease, and affects nearly all sexually active people at some point in their lives. There are a variety of types of HPV, and most are harmless, while some can cause genital warts or lead to cancer if left untreated. HPV is spread by vaginal, oral or anal sex with anyone who has the virus. This disease is preventable and most sources recommend vaccination at the ages of 10-12. The vaccine lessens and prevents the spread of HPV and cancers caused by it, as well as lessens the likelihood of contraction. Find more information about HPV vaccination here.
Influenza (Flu): Influenza is a contagious respiratory disease caused by the flu virus. It’s spread by coughing and sneezing, and can also be contracted by touching contaminated surfaces. Symptoms of the flu include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, tiredness. The flu may cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Children, elders and people with compromised immune systems are at risk of serious complications such as pneumonia, sinus and ear infections, dehydration and even death. The flu is common throughout the world, with flu seasons usually lasting for a few months depending on the hemisphere of the world you live in. In tropical areas the flu can be spread year round. While this disease is generally not deadly, it is uncomfortable and highly contagious, which is why yearly flu shots are essential to preventing contraction. Find more information about the Influenza vaccination here.
The MMR Vaccine: (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) This vaccine prevents measles, mumps and rubella, and is a necessity before any travel if you have not been previously immunized. While this vaccine is common in Canada, you should check your record as measles outbreaks have been in several countries around the world in the last decade. Protect yourself from these three annoying viruses, which have the capacity to ruin your trip. Find more information on MMR vaccination here.
Pneumococcal Diseases: Pneumococcal bacteria cause a number of illnesses including pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, meningitis, and bacteremia. This bacteria is spread through close contact with an infected person, and coughing and sneezing. Symptoms depend on the area of the body that is infected, but will generally include fever, cough, shortness of breath, chills, chest pain ear pain, joint pain, sleeplessness and irritability. In severe cases where persons with compromised immune systems are infected, or the illness is not treated, serious complications can occur. Pneumococcal disease occurs around the world, and travellers are at heightened risk if travelling to developing areas with crowded settings, or areas where vaccination against pneumococcal infections is not commonly used. Find more information about Pneumococcal diseases vaccination here.
Polio: Polio is a disease caused by a virus that affects the nervous system, and is usually spread by person to person contact, and rarely in drinking water or food. Most people with polio do not experience symptoms and recover completely, while some may have symptoms such as fever, tiredness, nausea, headache, nasal congestion, sore throat, cough, muscle stiffness, pain in arms and legs. In serious cases Polio causes loss of muscle control and even death. It’s been eradicated from all but Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, with rare occurrences spread from these countries. Travellers to developing portions of Africa should also consider this vaccine. Find more information about Polio vaccination here.
TB Skin Testing (Tuberculosis): TB is a disease caused by a bacteria affecting the lungs, but it can occur anywhere in the body. It’s spread through the air when an infected person coughs, speaks, sneezes or exhales. Not everyone infected becomes sick, and TB generally produces severe symptoms including a long-lasting cough, pain in the chest, coughing up blood or sputum, fever, weakness, weight loss, chills, swearing, lack of appetite, tiredness. TB occurs throughout the world, and is most often found in areas of Sub-Saharan Africa, Central America and South America. Nearly 1.5 TB related deaths occur every year, making this a serious infection. While there is a vaccine for TB, it has limited efficacy in prevention, which is why the best means of prevention is avoidance of areas where TB is prevalent, and regular skin testing for the disease after travels. Find more information about Tuberculosis vaccination here.
TDaP: (Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis) These 3 diseases have surfaced many times in the past in South American regions, and while this vaccination is common in developed countries, some people may not have it. Check your immunization records and make sure you get the necessary boosters before travel.
Diphtheria: Diphtheria is an illness spread through soughing, sneezing and skin sore contact. It is prevalent in developing countries and rural areas. Industrialized countries have low occurrences due to the availability of vaccination. Symptoms of diphtheria include fever, sore throat, neck swelling, skin sores and a thick coat in nose and throat. In severe cases the heart and nerves can swell, and trouble breathing may occur. Diphtheria has a lethality rate of 5-10% in cases with breathing issues. Find more information of Diphtheria vaccination here.
Tetanus: Tetanus is an illness that can occur in non-immunized people after an injury with a contaminated object. The bacteria that causes tetanus is commonly found in soil and can get into the body from any kind of break in the skin. Tetanus causes muscle tightening, stiffness, lock-jaw, trouble swallowing, seizures, fever and high blood pressure. 10-20% of cases are fatal, even when treated. This illness affects the entire world and while international travel doesn’t necessarily affect the risk, people who are doing humanitarian work, construction, demolition and other labour are at higher risk, especially in developing countries. Immunization is the only way to fully prevent tetanus. Find more information on Tetanus vaccination here.
Pertussis: Pertussis, or “whooping cough,” is a contagious disease spread through coughing and sneezing. Symptoms of pertussis are similar to a cold and include runny nose, fever, cough, with later symptoms escalating to pause in breathing, fits of rapid coughs, high pitched “whoop,” vomiting and exhaustion. This disease is most serious for babies and small children. Pertussis is commonly vaccinated against, and the vaccine is routinely administered in most countries. Despite this, it continues to occur in around the world due to lack of vaccination. Unvaccinated travellers through developing countries are particularly at risk. Find more information about Pertussis vaccination here.
Shingles: Shingles is a viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes Chicken Pox. After you’ve had Chicken Pox, the virus will lay inactive in nerve tissue you’re your spinal cord or brain, and may re-activate and cause shingles. This is most common in unimmunized older adults and people with lowered immune systems. The primary symptom of shingles is a painful rash, but it can be accompanied by fever, headache and blistering. The best way to protect yourself against shingles is to get vaccinated against Varicella. Shingles is contagious and may spread the chicken pox infection to anyone who has not been vaccinated or is not immune, so it is recommended that you prevent the spread of the virus by staying away from others. Find more information about Shingles vaccination here.
Varicella (Chickenpox): Chickenpox or Varicella is a disease which is generally seen in children, and is notable for pox, or spots on skin accompanying infection. This disease is more severe in adults, and for this reason adults who have not had Chicken Pox as a child require vaccination. Symptoms of Chicken Pox include rash-like spots, fever, headache and general feelings of illness. The spots and symptoms usually occur after 10-21 days from first contraction, and last for 5-10 days. The spots go through 3 stages, going from small raised pink or red bumps (papules) to small, fluid filled blisters formed over the bumps a day before breaking and leaking, and then crusts and scabs which may take a few days to heal. Most at risk for contracting chicken pox are those who haven’t had it as a child, as a second occurrence is very rare, or those who have not been vaccinated. Find more information about Varicella vaccination here.
Centre of Disease Control and Prevention (2013). Traveler’s health. Retrieved from: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/diseases
Government of Canada (2017). Vaccination. Retrieved from: https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/health-safety/vaccines
Mayo Clinic (2017). Diseases and conditions. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions
In addition, you may want to consider a rabies vaccination if you will be staying in areas with animals and rural areas, or working directly with animals. You are also always recommended to take the required anti-malaria medications, and personal anti-mosquito protection, especially if you plan to be outside for prolonged periods of time. If you are going to be hiking and going to be in high elevations, we recommend taking medications for Altitude Illness. We also recommend brining a diarrhea remedy, as Traveller’s Diarrhea is always a threat in any South American country, and can easily ruin a trip if contracted. Similarly, be aware of safety concerns as you travel and always follow what is going on if you are travelling through rural areas.
Consult with ABC Travel Clinic today to learn more about your trip, and what you can do to be safe. ABC Travel Clinic ensures that you can travel with peace of mind, and without fear for your health. For travel and non-travel related healthcare and vaccinations, medication and medical guidelines, visit us today or give us a call. Book an appointment with ABC Travel Consultations to discuss vaccines, prescriptions, medication and safety. Make sure your upcoming trip will be a good one, and book your consultation today. For more information about our clinic, send us an email or give us a call anytime! To learn more about travel destinations, associated risks, vaccines and medications, browse our website. Remember to be safe during your upcoming vacation, and book your travel consultation with ABC Travel Clinic today. We are located in Markham on Yonge, bordering Thornhill, North York, Richmond Hill & Vaughan.