The tropical environment in Brazil poses a number of serious health risks to those traveling on business to Rio De Janeiro. In recent weeks a number of high-profile athletes, mostly golfers and tennis players, have pulled out of the upcoming events over their concerns about the Zika virus.

Brazil’s health threats can broadly be placed into three distinct categories:

  • Vaccine-preventable diseases
  • Insect-borne diseases
  • Food and waterborne diseases

In this blog we’ll highlight the major threats, debunk the myths and offer advice on how best to keep your travelers safer from health risks in Brazil.

Prior to travel

Protecting travelers’ health requires a significant amount of planning. Educating employees regarding potential health risks is part of a company’s duty of care obligations, especially if the traveler has existing medical conditions.

Consultation with a travel medicine specialist at least a month before departure is recommended. This will allow all necessary immunizations to be given and allow immunity to build within the patient prior to any potential exposure to disease.

The clinician must be informed of all intended travel both within and outside Brazil, as different regions within the country carry different levels of risk for particular diseases such as yellow fever. In fact, many nations will require proof of yellow fever vaccination before allowing entry if you have been to Brazil during your trip.

Travelers should also ensure they have medical insurance that is valid in Brazil, and medical evacuation insurance in the event of an emergency.

Vaccine-preventable diseases

Travelers to Brazil will likely be exposed to a number of vaccine-preventable diseases during their trip to Brazil. These are not necessarily endemic to Brazil itself as, given the international nature of global sporting events, a wide variety of diseases could be brought into the country by other travelers.

These diseases include the likes of chickenpox, hepatitis A and B, measles, mumps, rubella and diphtheria. During the consultation with their travel medicine specialist ensure travelers check they are up to date with all routine and recommended vaccinations.

Insect-borne diseases

A number of diseases in Brazil are transmitted through insect bites, especially mosquito. These include dengue fever, malaria, yellow fever and Zika.

Both yellow fever and malaria have vaccines and medications that protect travelers if they are bitten and infected, and the clinician should ensure travelers receive the necessary vaccinations and medicines.

However, dengue fever, Zika and chikungunya have no such treatments, and the best means of protecting travelers is to minimize the risk of mosquito bites altogether. Methods of reducing the risk of bites include:

 

  • Use of insect repellent with at least 35% DEET (the most common active ingredient in insect repellent)
  • Covering as much of the skin with clothing as possible.
  • Ensuring any accommodation has adequate mosquito screening devices fitted to windows and doors.

Zika

Zika virus has been making headlines since November 2015, when Brazilian officials linked the illness in the increasing number of cases of microcephaly, a congenital disorder that results in smaller head and brain-size in infants. Previously Zika was not considered a major cause for concern, similar to having cold or mild flu, but as the link between Zika and microcephaly has been forged, worries have risen dramatically.

Despite the public anxiety around Zika, the disease remains low-risk, as the vast majority of business travelers will not be pregnant women. Furthermore, the precautions against Zika are the same as for dengue fever and malaria, which should be of far higher concern.

That said, it is essential to recommend that pregnant women consider postponing non-essential travel to Brazil, or consult a doctor to discuss specific risk factors while traveling. You can find more information around Zika.

Food and waterborne diseases

In Brazil the most common food and waterborne diseases include typhoid fever, cholera and hepatitis A. In order to avoid waterborne illnesses travelers should only drink water that is bottled, boiled or purified. As an extra precaution travelers should only drink bottled water from a known, reputable brand.

Enjoying Brazil’s cuisine will be among the highlights of any traveler’s trip, however food hygiene standards can be lackluster in Brazil, and travelers should avoid eating food from street vendors and unregulated restaurants. Food served within the event venues themselves and from hotels should be safe though.

Final thoughts

Travelers should seek medical advice from a qualified medical professional prior to travel to understand the risk of infectious diseases. The information above is provided for guidance purposes but does not replace medical advice.