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Bolivia Health Guide For Travel
"How to stay in good health in Bolivia"
Bolivia Health Information
Both personal hygiene and sanitary practices in food handling are of poor quality, therefore travelers should be careful about contracting food-borne illnesses (food-poisoning). Eat only thoroughly cooked food. Drink bottled or boiled water and be careful about eating food purchased from street vendors. Just don't be paranoid about sampling local foods, it is all part of the travel experience.
The most common ailment for visitors in Bolivia are traveler's diarrhea, which is caused by contaminated food or water. Symptoms usually last a couple days to a week. If symptoms are beyond two weeks, with blood or pain, you should seek medical attention.
Medical care in large cities is adequate for most purposes but of varying quality. The larger the city the better the medical care available is likely to be. Standards decrease rapidly the further you get from the larger cities and in rural areas health facilities can be very poor to non-existent. English-speaking doctors trained overseas can be found in La Paz and Santa Cruz.
Private hospitals and clinics are better staffed and equipped than public ones. Medical treatment in Bolivia is cheap compared to the United States. Minor ailments can be treated in local clinics and paid for on the spot, rather than going through an insurance.
Pharmacies (farmacias) in Bolivia can be easily found in the larger cities and also found in some smaller towns. Pharmacies take turns staying open 24 hours a day. Most standard drugs and medicines are available, although you might not recognize them because labels will be in Spanish. Prescription and over the counter medications are widely available in Bolivia. Some pharmacies will also do shots (tetanus, birth control, etc.) and they're a good place to go to get medicines to treat common ailments that could arise during travel.
Eastern Bolivia is tropical, and travelers to that area can be at risk of getting bit by infected mosquitoes that carry yellow fever, malaria and other diseases (see below). Vaccinations should be done and other necessary precautions should be taken to prevent certain illnesses.
The western regions of Bolivia is in the Andes Mountains, and is mostly insect-free, so many mosquito-borne diseases don't occur. However, altitude sickness (see below) can be a problem. Also, because of the higher altitudes the ultraviolet radiation is stronger, which increases risk of getting a sunburn fast. Sun screen should be worn as a protective measure.
Make sure you are healthy before you travel. It is a good idea to get a thorough check-up before you leave, get all the necessary vaccinations, and travel insurance that covers medical care costs in Bolivia can come in handy, just for a precaution if serious health problems arise.
Health Risks & DiseasesBelow is a list of Bolivia health concerns and diseases that can arise during travel.
Altitude Sickness: If traveling to the Andes Mountain range in western Bolivia, the altitude of La Paz ranges from 3,600 meters (11,811 feet) to 4050 meters (13,287 feet) above sea level. Much of Western Bolivia is at the same altitude or higher, including Lake Titicaca, the Salar de Uyuni, Potosi, Oruro and the whole Altiplano region is within the zone where altitude sickness could become a problem, especially for those arriving from at or near sea level. The altitude alone poses a serious risk of illness, hospitalization, and even death, even for those in excellent health.
Shortness of breath are normal, given lack of oxygen at these heights. Some people may experience headaches, loss of appetite, extreme fatigue, and nausea. Most symptoms develop during the first day. The best advice is to rest on your first day at high elevations, drink plenty of liquids and avoid alcohol. Give yourself at least a day or two to acclimatize to the altitude before doing strenuous activities. Also, many hotels in Bolivia offer oxygen for those affected with severe headaches. If symptoms become more severe, seek medical attention.
You should familiarize yourself with the symptoms of high altitude sickness Read more on Altitude Sickness
Yellow Fever: If traveling to the tropical lowlands of eastern Bolivia, yellow fever is a threat. Yellow fever is a viral disease that is spread through bites of infected mosquitoes. Illness ranges in severity from flu-like symptoms to severe hepatitis and hemorrhagic fever. Yellow Fever can cause damage to the liver, kidney, heart and result in death
Major symptoms may include sudden onset of fever, yellowing of the skin (jaundice) and hemorrhage. It occurs predominately in South America and Africa. Recently, the president of Bolivia has made it a requirement for all travelers entering Bolivia to be vaccinated with yellow fever. See a Map of Yellow Fever areas in Bolivia
Malaria: There are some areas in Bolivia that malaria is common, particular in the Amazon basin regions of Bolivia. At the higher altitudes, there is little risk of mosquitoes that carry malaria.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the risk areas for malaria are in areas below 2,500 m (<8,202 ft) in the following Bolivian departments: Beni, Chuquisaca, Cochabamba, La Paz, Pando, Santa Cruz, and Tarija. No risk in the city of La Paz.
Malaria begins with a bite from an infected mosquito. No vaccine is currently available for malaria. Drug tablets that prevent malaria must be taken continuously to reduce the risk of infection. Also, bringing mosquito repellent from home is a good idea, since can be hard to find in Bolivia. Read more on Malaria
Dengue Fever: This is another disease that is found in the tropical regions of Bolivia and is caused from a bite of a mosquito. Unlike Malaria, Dengue fever is a virus and death cases are more rare.
The obvious signs of Dengue are high fever. There is currently no vaccine to prevent and no medications to treat it. Learn more about the Prevention, Symptoms and Treatment of Dengue Fever
Leishmaniasis: A disease caused by a parasites that is transmitted by the bite of certain species of sand flies. The disease causes skin sores on exposed areas, such as the face, arms and legs. These usually heal within a few months, leaving scars. In more severe forms, the lesions can partially or totally destroy the mucous membranes of the nose, mouth and throat cavities and surrounding tissues if not treated.
Incidences of Leishmaniasis is highest in the rural tropical and subtropical regions of Bolivia where conditions are favorable for sand flies. No vaccines or drugs for preventing infection are currently available. Travelers should use protective clothing and insect repellent for prevention.
Human Botfly: The Botfly is an insect that in the larval stage lives in the skin of animals and sometimes in humans. The botfly larvae can end up on a human by a mosquito. This is how: the human botfly attaches its eggs to mosquitoes by gluing its eggs to their bodies. When the mosquito bites a person, the eggs are released onto a human and because of the body heat, the eggs hatch into larvae and the larvae borrow themselves into the skin. Read More
For humans the larvae doesn't cause any life threating risks or diseases, it is just an unpleasant experience if you don't like creepy-crawlies under your skin. Human botflies can be in the tropical areas of South America. In Bolivia, they can be found in the tropical rural areas. See Video on Botfly Removal
Chagas disease: This is a chronic and debilitating parasitic infection that affects millions of people in Latin America. Chagas' disease is caused by the bite of a small beetle, know as a triatomine bug or "kissing bug".
These blood-sucking bugs are found in houses made from materials such as mud, straw, and palm thatch. During the day, the bugs hide in crevices in the walls and roofs. During the night, when the inhabitants are sleeping, the bugs emerge.
The bite can be painful and infection can be detected by a blood test. The disease can be fatal and can take decades to show up. The best defence is not being bitten. If you have to sleep under a thatched roof in affected regions, use mosquito nets and insect repellent.
It occurs mostly in rural areas in parts of Mexico, Central America, and South America. In Bolivia they can be found in rural areas of the Cochabamba, Chuquisaca and Tarija departments. More info on Chagas' disease can be found at www.cdc.gov/chagas/factsheet.html
Required & Recommended VaccinationsBelow is a list of required and recommended vaccinations for travel to Bolivia.
Yellow Fever: Required for any person older than twelve (12) months traveling to Bolivia, must bear the International Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate, which shows proof of the yellow fever vaccination. If a pediatrician or primary physician decides that for health reasons a person cannot receive a Yellow Fever vaccine, they may issue corresponding certification. This certification must be translated into Spanish and the traveler must hold a copy of both Certificate and translation, to be submitted before Bolivian Immigration Authorities. Tourists who do not have a International Vaccination Certificate for yellow fever will still be allowed to enter Bolivia, but they have to pay a $100 fee. Find an authorized U.S. yellow fever vaccination clinic
Hepatitis A or immune globulin (IG): Recommended for all unvaccinated people traveling to or working in countries with an intermediate or high level of hepatitis A virus infection (see map) where exposure might occur through food or water. Cases of travel-related hepatitis A can also occur in travelers to developing countries with "standard" tourist itineraries, accommodations, and food consumption behaviors.
Hepatitis B: Recommended for all unvaccinated people traveling to or working in countries with intermediate to high levels of endemic HBV transmission (see map), especially those who might be exposed to blood or body fluids, have sexual contact with the local population, or be exposed through medical treatment (e.g., for an accident).
Typhoid: Recommended for all unvaccinated people traveling to or working in Tropical South America, especially if visiting smaller cities, villages, or rural areas and staying with friends or relatives where exposure might occur through food or water.
Rabies: Recommended for travelers who will be spending a lot of time outdoors, especially in rural areas, and may come in contact with animals.
* Routine Vaccinations are recommended if you are not up-to-date with routine shots such as, measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus (DPT) vaccine, polio virus vaccine, etc.
Further ResoursesCurrent health information for Bolivia is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). If you are planning international travel, you can learn about healths risks in a certain geographic area by contacting:
The CDC at its toll-free phone number (1-877-394-8747) or Web site (http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/destinationBolivia.aspx).
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