This summer millions of athletes, sports fans, and tourists will filter through Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the 2016 Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games. While travelers can look forward to cultural exchange, feats of athleticism, and lively celebrations, mass gatherings and international travel sometimes pose a variety of health and safety concerns. Here are some ways you can mitigate your risks before, during, and after your trip.
Visit the doc. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends visiting a health-care provider four to six weeks before travel. This extra time enables certain vaccines to take effect before you arrive at your destination. You can also see a travel-medicine specialist for a more in-depth consultation about country-specific concerns. Talk to your doctor about preexisting conditions, check whether your vaccinations are up-to-date, and ensure you have an adequate supply of regular prescriptions.
Consider travel insurance. Travel is unpredictable. Insurance can protect your health and wallet in case of accidents, medical evacuation, theft, or trip interruption. Read the fine print before you buy, and take a few copies of your plan with you.
Pack a first aid kit. The CDC provides a list of recommended items to pack in your travel health kit, including regular prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, and first aid supplies. If your doctor prescribes an antimalarial drug, purchase these from a reliable source in your home country to avoid buying counterfeit drugs, a worldwide problem.
Check your local government’s travel advisories. Each country shares different advice with its citizens on particular locales. Be sure to check travel warnings before you leave home.
Make copies of important documents. Keep copies of your passport and itinerary on you in case your bags are lost or stolen. It’s also good to email copies to trusted friends or family so they are aware of your travel details and can lend assistance from afar.
During Your Trip
Repel bugs. The mosquito is the world’s deadliest animal. Several countries in Central and South America are currently experiencing Zika outbreaks, and the same mosquitoes that transmit the virus carry other diseases that can’t be prevented by vaccines, like dengue and chikungunya. Not only will these illnesses put a damper on your vacation, they can cause brain damage and even death. Protect yourself by covering exposed skin with long sleeves and pants, wearing insect repellent, sleeping with a mosquito net, using permethrin-treated gear, and talking to your doctor about whether you should take an antimalarial drug.
Be safe in crowds. Large groups can make you more susceptible to theft. Leave your valuables at the hotel (or at home) and avoid wearing expensive jewelry. Backpacks, open purses, and clothing pockets are invitations to potential thieves. Wear a money belt under your clothes or keep your bag secured in front of you. Carry a copy of your stamped passport with you at all times, but leave the real thing locked up in your hotel room.
Don’t swim in freshwater. It may look tempting, but freshwater harbors all kinds of nasty parasites, like those that cause schistosomiasis. These can be absorbed through the skin and potentially lead to devastating health effects. Avoid swimming in lakes and rivers, and never swallow water while swimming.
Drink in moderation. You can’t travel to Brazil without indulging in a caipirinha or two, but excessive drinking and recreational drug use can impair your judgment and lead to accidents, arrest, or high-risk behavior.
Safe sex is the best sex. Latex condoms and dental dams prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. The CDC also advises partners traveling together to use condoms, since Zika virus can be transmitted by men and women during sex, even if they’re asymptomatic.
Choose transportation wisely. Each year thousands of tourists are killed and injured in motor vehicle accidents. Always wear a seat belt, avoid overcrowded buses, and don't drink and drive. It’s usually safest to stay off motorcycles, but if you do hop on one, wear a helmet. Also be sure to pay attention to local traffic laws, use sidewalks, and cross at crosswalks.
Keep your hands clean. Wash your hands often and carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer for times when water isn’t available. Avoid touching your eyes and mouth to prevent the spread of germs.
Don’t touch the animals. They may look cute, but animal bites and scratches can spread disease, parasites, and rabies, especially in areas with poor sanitation. The safest way to admire furry friends is from a distance.
Watch what you eat. Don’t get stuck on the toilet instead of cheering in the stands. Some serious foodborne illnesses like hepatitis A and typhoid can be prevented with vaccines, but that may not address all your tummy troubles. Eat food that’s cooked and served hot, wash your fresh fruits and veggies in clean water and peel them yourself, and don’t drink tap water. This means you may have to ask for your drinks without ice. If you want to indulge in any delicious street cuisine, be cautious of any dishes that have been sitting in the sun for several hours.
Practice sun safety. Brazil is fabulously sunny, so travelers must stay hydrated and keep their skin protected. Drink plenty of water and wear sunscreen to ward off sunburn and harmful rays.
If you’re feeling unwell: Seek medical care if you’re feeling sick or develop a fever. Tell your doctor where you traveled and in what activities you participated.
If you’re taking an antimalarial: Finish the full course of medication as instructed by your doctor, even after you’ve returned home.
If you’re pregnant or planning to get pregnant: Pregnant women who are returning from Rio can be tested for Zika. The CDC recommends that women who have traveled to Zika-risk areas wait eight weeks before trying to become pregnant, if they haven’t developed symptoms. Men with Zika symptoms are advised to wait six months before attempting to impregnate their partner. Research on the virus is constantly evolving; consult the CDC website and talk to your doctor for up-to-date information.