Affordable Travel Guide to Vaccinations for South America

Are Your Shots Up to Date?

Vaccinations for South America

Because large swaths of South American are situated in tropical (Equatorial) and sub-tropical climates, North Americans and Europeans, as well as Austral-Asians traveling to the continent need to vaccinate against diseases not found in less temperate zones. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) regularly post disease updates on its website, but generally, diseases such as yellow fever, dengue, malaria, hepatitis A and B, typhoid, polio, diphtheria and tetanus are a risk for South American tourists.

The CDC advises that individuals visit their general practitioners 4 to 6 weeks prior to departure for an overall health check-up and to discuss disease risks in the countries to which they are traveling. Some inoculations take as long as that to become active, so the lead-time is necessary. In very few instances are these types of examinations and shots covered by public or private health insurance, so be prepared to pay for this service.

People with compromised immune systems from conditions like diabetes or H.I.V., pregnant women and small children may be especially susceptible. Other than the Galapagos Islands and the Caribbean coast of Venezuela, most South America tour destinations are geared toward adult experiences.

Even if shots are not required to any country you might visit, not just those in South America, it is advisable to keep immunization up to date for reasons of good health. In addition to vaccines, it is crucial for travelers to remember to take their regular prescriptions with them, and it’s wise to carry extra; it is likely to be impossible to refill a prescription in the Amazon rainforest or at Machu Picchu. And the savvy tourist will take a packet of anti-diarrhea pills along in their medicine bag.

The world is still in the throes of dealing with the H1N1, or swine flu, epidemic, and even though it appears to have not hit as hard as some predicted, it still exists and has the potential to explode; it makes complete sense to get an H1N1 flu shot before leaving your home base.

Diseases of certain types are avoidable through common sense.

Here are some tips:

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before eating.
  • Never consume food purchased from street vendors.
  • Ensure that food served to you is fully cooked.
  • Do not eat dairy products unless you can verify with certainty that they are pasteurized.

Malaria is present in many regions of South America and is largely preventable; however, South America tourists should note that the commonly administered anti-malarial drug “chloroquine” is ineffective on the malaria strains found in South America; a doctor must be consulted for the correct prescription. In most areas of South America that sit at higher than 5,000 feet above seal level, malaria is not a risk. Neither is it present in major cities, like La Paz and Quito, or the Galapagos Islands. Malaria, like dengue, is spread by infected mosquitoes; taking precautions, such as wearing light-colored clothing that covers the entire body, against bug bites is a good strategy.

Rabies exists in virtually all of the nations of South America. It should not pose a threat to tourists unless they are exposed to wildlife or those who handle wildlife, such as researchers and veterinarians.

Travelers who are unsure of the last date they were vaccinated, or what inoculations were administered, should check their medical records and see their family doctors. A tourist leaving home in good health and with proper vaccinations for their holiday destination in South America are those that will be more apt to return home in equally good health.

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