Health and safety tips for Rio travellers

If you're heading to Rio for the games, there's more to be aware of than just Zika. Photo / iStock
If you're heading to Rio for the games, there's more to be aware of than just Zika. Photo / iStock

With the Rio Olympics only a month away, the spotlight is on Brazil as it prepares for half a million tourists from around the world to arrive.

Despite Brazil being an increasingly popular destination for New Zealanders, it presents some unique health risks to travellers, including food and water safety, and climate conditions.

The Zika virus has been of particular concern to travellers planning to head to Rio. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has advised those travelling to affected areas to protest themselves against mosquito bites and consider delaying travel for pregnant woman, or those who plan to become pregnant.

The mascots of the Rio 2016 Olympics, left, and Paralympic Games. Photo / AP
The mascots of the Rio 2016 Olympics, left, and Paralympic Games. Photo / AP

However, there are other health concerns to be aware of when travelling through Brazil.

Travel insurance and assistant provider Allianz Global Assistance (AGA) has advised Kiwis check that they are up-to-date with routine vaccinations including MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) and TDaP (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis).

Travellers may also consider getting travel-specific vaccines for diseases transmitted by food and water including Hepatitis A and Typhoid.

According to AGA data, in the past five years, New Zealanders and Australians have made over half a million dollars in health related claims from Brazil - the most common being for "general sickness".

Tips to avoid getting sick

1. Avoid tap water and ice cubes and stick to drinking bottled water - Brazil is still a developing country and some areas may lack proper sanitation.

2. Use insect repellent at all times - Brazil is experiencing ongoing transmission of the mosquito-borne Zika virus. Wearing long, loose-fitting clothing and using sprays and a mosquito net at night will help provide protection.

3. Carry an antidiarrheal drug - Diarrhoea is the most common travel-related ailment and while most cases are mild, it is recommended that travellers carry an antidiarrheal drug for a short-term remedy.

4. Keep hydrated - Brazil is a tropical country with a varying climate and it's easy to become dehydrated. In addition to bottled water, coconut water is a good source of hydration and is widely available across Brazil.

Vaccines that travellers should discuss with their health care professional include:

• Hepatitis A - Spread through contaminated food or water, Hepatitis A is a common travel illness.

• Hepatitis B - This vaccine is recommended for those who may be exposed to bodily fluids including: sexual contact, tattoos or following a medical procedure.

• Yellow Fever - Due to the tropical climate of Brazil, occasional cases of yellow fever are reported across the county. It is recommended that travellers heading to affected regions or other countries in South America receive a yellow fever vaccine, as it may be required for entry into Brazil.

• Typhoid - Typhoid is one of the most common infections among travellers. This bacterial illness spreads through contaminated food and water. Oral and injectable variants of the vaccine are available.

• Rabies - Spread through bites of infected animals, this vaccine may be recommended based on your itinerary - especially if coming into contact with animals.

• Malaria - Malaria is transmitted by a night-biting mosquito. AGA recommends that travellers consult with a travel health expert before deciding whether to take anti-malarial drugs as the medicine may have side effects.

• Polio - Polio exists in many regions and while the vaccine is routine, it is important to be up-to-date before travelling to affected areas.

Tips to stay safe

1. Avoid taking taking expensive items on trip - do you really need your expensive camera or your laptop?

2. Don't walk around with signs of wealth - it's often easiest to dress like you're a local to avoid being the target for thieves. Put your phone away somewhere safe when you're walking around the streets sightseeing.

3. Download your travel insurance details - having easy access to your travel insurance details and emergency contact numbers can be lifesaving if you're stranded, injured or in an emergency situation.

4. Be aware of local scams - in Rio a popular scam is for someone to intentionally spill something on your clothing (this could be anything from ketchup to fake bird poo). They will then offer to help you clean it, while in the meantime, you are distracted so their partner steals whatever they can get their hands on without you noticing.

- NZ Herald

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