Illnesses and When To See a Doctor In South America

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Getting sick while traveling in South America can be a real drag. The food, especially in remote places of Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador can be served under extremely poor and unsanitary conditions. If you do get sick, your first instinct may be to reach for that big bottle of pills you were prescribed by your travel physician that are probably strong enough to kill a small animal or run to the nearest health clinic for a checkup (yes, you may have guessed that I am not exactly an advocate for antibiotics and traditional western medicine). And although I know from first hand experience that being sick while abroad to put it bluntly: really sucks, I think there are rational ways to handle your sickness depending on its severity.

There are several mild illnesses that may occur while traveling that shouldn’t cause too much alarm and can be easily treated by means of natural supplements and there are several very serious illnesses that should pose as a “red flag” to seek medical attention as soon as possible.

I have outlined a few of them below:

Stomach Ache & Mild Diarrhea

Suffering from a stomachache and mild diarrhea while traveling in South America is very common. Your body will take a few days to adjust to new foods  (especially if you are a meat eater). If you do start to experience bloat, stomachaches, and diarrhea, allow yourself 72 hours to acclimate before pumping your system with antibiotics or spending an arm and a leg at a local clinic. Drink LOTS of water, take it easy, and eat foods rich in carbohydrates (like potatoes and white rice).

Major Diarrhea (Lasting for more than a week and accompanied by weight loss)

Diarrhea that lasts for more than one week and is accompanied by drastic weight loss can indicate dehydration and loss of vital nutrients. At this point, it may be time to reach for your cipro pills and possibly schedule an appointment with a local clinic (just make sure you ask around to see if it’s a clean and reputable). The U.S Embassy has a list of recognized and approved facilities in all countries of South America, usually with listings in major cities.

Fever and Vomiting

Any illness that sparks a fever should be of major concern, especially while traveling in South America. Diseases such as Typhoid Fever, Hepatitis A & B can all cause alarming damage to your GI track and be detrimental to your health if not treated with immediacy. Assuming you received your shots before traveling, hopefully, none of these diseases will make their way into your system. Other ailments such as parasites and amoebas, however, can cause similar symptoms and be just as harmful. If you are fevering or vomiting for more than 24 hours, seek medical attention.

Skin Rash

Developing a rash while in South America is likely to cause more of a nuisance than pose any great threat to your personal health. Common rashes are caused by heat exposure, insect bites, bed bugs (yes I know, kind-of gross) and not tending to your regular hygiene routine. As with the other illnesses mentioned above, if your rash is accompanied by a fever, shortness of breath, or doesn’t clear up within a week, seek help!

Disclaimer: I am by no means an expert. I currently reside in Bolivia, and have traveled extensively through Central and South America so I offer you this advice based on personal experience ONLY.

Have you ever been sick while traveling? Share your stories.

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About Author

Since a young age Jenna has always had an undeviating desire to explore the world and all its hidden niches. This desire has catapulted her willingly into some of the most memorable experiences of her life! Starting with delivering shoes to underserved villages in the Dominican Republic to bussing it down through Mexico and Central America, she currently lives and works in Cochabamba, Bolivia and believes experiencing first hand what foreign culture is really like, serves as her ultimate passion.

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