The Essential Guide to Travel Vaccinations for South America

Fitzroy Loop or Yellow Fever? Huayhuash or Hepatitis? Don't let illness stop your travel plans, check out our guide to vaccinations for South America.

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Llamas and Flamingos congregate by Laguna Colorada, Bolivia Photo © Getty Images/Apexphotos

Every traveler should discuss their needs with their doctor prior to travel and with proper preparation, you can maintain your health while traveling anywhere in South America.

Vaccinations

At a minimum, the following vaccinations are recommended for travel in South America:

  • Routine vaccinations such as measles, mumps, rubella, polio, tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough
  • Hepatitis A
  • Typhoid
  • Yellow Fever

Other vaccinations which may need to be considered depending on traveler needs and travel activities:

  • Rabies
  • Meningitis (Meningococcal) - The risk for the majority of travelers is low however those who are spending extended periods of travel in densely populated areas or in locations where the disease is present e.g health workers or volunteers should consider getting the vaccination.

Yellow Fever

Yellow fever is found in several sub-tropical and tropical countries within South America such as: Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname and Venezuela.

If you are arriving into any country from a country where yellow fever is present, you will need to supply proof of vaccination on arrival. Some yellow fever endemic countries will also not permit entry if travelers have not received the vaccination.

Rabies

It's recommended to get a rabies vaccination if you are planning outdoor activities as a part of your trip (such as camping, hiking, biking, adventure travel, and caving) or traveling extensively in rural locations (where access to medical treatment is non-existent to minimal) that puts you at risk of animal bite.

Rabies has been eliminated from most countries in South America due to efficient vaccination programs.

Most people don't expect to be bitten by a dog, monkey or bat while traveling but if you're bitten, you will need seek medical treatment immediately (if, in major city or town) or evacuate to a large city with proper medical care and access to the post-exposure prophylaxis. However, it may be difficult to find and in some Asian countries, there can be localized shortages of the rabies vaccine.

Many rural and developing nation hospitals may not use the safer rabies vaccines instead using older types with risk to the traveler such as severe allergic reaction.

Malaria

Malaria is present in several countries in South America and if not treated, it can lead to further health complications or worse, death. Travelers should consider taking an anti-malarial before traveling however it's important to chat with your doctor as some anti-malarials work better than others.

Travel Health Tips

In terms of general travel safety in Asia, a few other tips to avoid illness are:

1. Water Safety

There's not many places in South America where you can drink water straight from the tap. Drink and brush your teeth with purified, treated water only. Keep your mouth closed while taking a shower or if you are in the midst of a water festival. Avoid ice and icy drinks unless you know the ice has come from a safe source.

2. Be a Compulsive Hand Washer

A bottle of hand sanitizer should be carried with you and be used after visiting the restroom, before each meal, after handling paper bills and coins, before putting-in or taking-out contact lenses etc. Hepatitis A and typhoid are passed in human faeces, so be a compulsive hand cleaner. 

3. Avoid Mozzie Bites

Use DEET and permethrin, long sleeves and pants and bed nets to prevent insect bites. Need more tips? Check out this article on minimising mosquito bites.

4. Watch What You Eat

Part of the travel experience is trying all the amazing and diverse dishes from the many countries in South America. However, sometimes things don't go to plan and you may end up with a dose of traveler's diarrhea or worse, hepatitis A or typhoid. You need to know what to look for when planning to eat out, otherwise you could end up stuck to the toilet or laid up in hospital.

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5 Comments

  • Travel clinc said

    Yellow fever is mainly occurs in Africa and south America.Yellow fever vaccine is recommended for travelers those who above nine month age.Yellow fever vaccine is a single dose vaccination take preferably 10 days before the travel date. It must be provided by the approved Yellow fever vaccination clinic. Those who desire to travel to South America this article is useful for them, it clearly gives the information about immunization tips, and how safely stay in South America.

  • M barron said

    Just needed info, have had most shots as I traveled to Africa some yrs. ago.

    Also visited South America in 2006, another yellow fever shot then.

    Appreciate any info . You am give .

    Thanks.

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  • Rosie said

    Hi everyone just informing you that even if you have a rabies vaccination you still need to have further rabies treatment ASAP if you're bitten - or else you will still die, it is 100% fatal. A rabies vaccination does decrease the amount of treatment you need afterwards as well as maybe giving you some more time.

  • rick be said

    I won't go anywhere there is some disease flourishing,but if I had to,I would make sure the shots are taken as least 2 weeks before I go. Every shot has a side effect & you don't want to be suffering them when you're far from home.

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