Hygiene Tips: How to Stay Healthy in Brazil

Diseases do not discriminate, and in the blink of an eye (or the bite of a mosquito) you could be struck down with a trip-spoiling illness. Here are a few tips to staying healthy and fit.

Market place in São Paulo, called Mercadão de São Paulo Photo © Photo by D A V I D S O N L U N A on Unsplash

While there are no vaccinations required to enter Brazil, we do recommend that you get the minimum vaccinations to give yourself the best chance of not falling foul to Yellow Fever or laid up in hospital dehydrated from riding the porcelain bus with nausea.

Check out our article on the recommended minimum vaccinations for traveling to South America plus some other important information on vaccinations.

Another essential thing to consider is that depending where you are from you may need specific vaccinations to re-enter the country. Please check with your government health department and travel advisory department to find out what you may need.

Disease Risks in Brazil

Zika Virus

Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus which is from the same family as Dengue Fever, Yellow Fever, West Nile & other viruses which cause various strains of encephalitis.

Brazil had its first instances of Zika in May 2015. 

It is strongly recommended that all travelers take measures to prevent mosquito bites such as long, light-colored clothing, DEET based repellents, mosquito nets.

For more information about Zika virus, please read our in-depth article.

Yellow Fever

Yellow Fever is a mosquito-borne disease you need to watch out for while traveling in Brazil. It is advised to get the necessary vaccination before you travel against this harmful and potentially fatal condition especially if you are planning to head to the Amazon, Brasilia and Iguazu Falls. However, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it is generally not recommended to be vaccinated and it is wise to seek medical advice for further information.
Some governments require a compulsory international certificate of yellow fever vaccination for travelers before they are able to return back to their home country.

Like many diseases, the initial symptoms of Yellow Fever are general such as fever, headache, dizziness and vomiting. Please seek medical attention if you are exhibiting any of these symptoms. Yellow Fever is diagnosed via a blood test.
It is after the first few days, is when things can become literally life or death. Some may have a full recovery, others, unfortunately, suffer from internal organ failure, resulting in death.

Malaria

The best known of all the travelers' enemies is the mosquito. The female Anopheles mosquito is the carrier of malaria, a protozoan parasite that can infect a human being after only one bite. The symptoms include fevers, vomiting and sweats and as the infection grows, it depletes oxygen in the blood making the carrier increasingly sick.

There are plenty of prophylaxis drugs available to prevent malaria, most of which you have to take for a few weeks prior to travel to allow it to build up in your system, but you'll need to check which tablets you need for the area you're heading to, because some strains of malaria are resistant to certain ingredients. The malaria mosquito tends to stay indoors during the day and will come out to play in the evening.

Dengue Fever

Similar to mosquito-borne malaria, Dengue Fever causes excruciating muscle-joint pain and throws in a fever for that extra punch. You can get each strain of DF only once, but there are 5 strains. Each successive infection increases your chances of developing the more severe Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever. Symptoms of Dengue Fever usually begin seven to 10 days after being bitten and include high fever with aching joints and bones and a headache. If you develop these symptoms, you should consult a doctor.

The dengue fever carrying mosquito likes to be around during the day and in the shade, so under building eaves and in tree shade - exactly where you like to be. But basically, you need to cover up and lather yourself in DEET insect repellent. Read our indepth article about Dengue Fever for more information.

Chikungunya

One of these is Chikungunya, which is a mosquito-borne viral disease first described during an outbreak in southern Tanzania in 1952. It is an alphavirus of the family Togaviridae. The name "chikungunya" derives from a root verb in the Kimakonde language, meaning "to become contorted" and describes the stooped appearance of sufferers with joint pain. The Asian Tiger Mosquito which carries Chikungunya, also carries Yellow Fever.

The World Health Organisation indicates the symptoms of Chikungunya are fever and severe joint pain however it does share other symptoms similar to Dengue Fever so it is imperative that you seek medical attention immediately. It is common for Chikungunya to be misdiagnosed where Dengue Fever is also present. Both diseases are present in Brazil. 

So if you do get some unusually sore joints - you may want to check it out.

Rabies

While you probably won't come across this problem in the city however on the outskirts and beyond, wild animals are free to roam.
In Brazil, dogs are the main carriers of rabies but the disease has also been found in monkeys, bats and cats. 
The chances of being bitten by a rabid dog or bat are actually pretty slim, but taking care when you're exploring can help keep you safe.

If you are unfortunate enough to be bitten, then wash the wound immediately with clean water and head for the nearest hospital. Of course, there are vaccinations you can get before you go, and if you're intending spending a lot of time off the beaten path, you might want to check out your doctor's advice on which shots you'll need to combat this unpleasant condition.

Other diseases such as Hepatitis A & B, Typhoid, HIV/AIDS, Chagas, Tetanus & Diptheria are also present in Brazil. Please seek medical advice before you travel should you need to be vaccinated.

Shrimp being cooked in a huge dish in Sao Paulo, Brazil
Shrimp for sale in a market in Sao Paulo. Photo by Silas Lopes on Unsplash

Other Health Issues in Brazil

Traveler's Diarrhea

Considered to be the bane of every traveler on the planet, travel diarrhea is caused by viral and bacterial infections, however, primarily it is caused by E.Coli bacteria.

Diarrhea can result in ranging degrees of dehydration, fatigue, abdominal pain, cramps and nausea.

Depending on the severity of the diarrhea case, treatment can be anything from medication to hospitalization for IV hydration. For more information on Traveler's Diarrhea and if you are covered by insurance, read this article.

Schistosomiasis

This disease is a risk throughout Brazil. It‘s spread by flukes (parasitic flatworm) that are carried by a species of freshwater snail, which then sheds them into slow-moving or still water.

The parasites penetrate human skin during swimming and then migrate to the bladder or bowel. They are excreted via stool or urine and could contaminate fresh water, where the cycle starts again.

Swimming in suspect freshwater lakes or slow-running rivers should be avoided.

Symptoms range from none to transient fever and rash, and advanced cases might have blood in the stool or in the urine. A blood test can detect antibodies if you might have been exposed, and treatment is readily available. If not treated, the infection can cause kidney failure or permanent bowel damage.

Soil-Transmitted Helminths

Soil-transmitted helminths or parasitic worms such as roundworm, hookworm and whipworm are transmitted via eggs in contaminated soil, particularly in areas of poor sanitation. These parasitic worms can live and reproduce in our intestinal tracts. 

The eggs of these parasites are also transmitted by:

  • Eating raw, unwashed fruit and vegetables
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Using or consuming contaminated water.

For some information on staying healthy in South America, check out these 6 easy tips.

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