For general information about health issues in South America, log on to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website at www.cdc.gov/travel. The CDC advises visitors to South America to protect themselves against hepatitis A and B.
General Availability of Healthcare -- Contact the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT; tel. 716/754-4883 or, in Canada, 416/652-0137; www.iamat.org) for tips on travel and health concerns in the countries you're visiting, and for lists of local, English-speaking doctors. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (tel. 800/311-3435; www.cdc.gov) provides up-to-date information on health hazards by region or country and offers tips on food safety. Travel Health Online (www.tripprep.com), sponsored by a consortium of travel medicine practitioners, may also offer helpful advice on traveling abroad. You can find listings of reliable medical clinics overseas at the International Society of Travel Medicine (www.istm.org).
Medical Warning -- The U.S. State Department's Office of Medical Services warns people suffering from the following ailments to exercise caution when traveling to high-altitude destinations such as La Paz, Lake Titicaca, Cusco, and Machu Picchu: sickle cell anemia, heart disease (for men 45 or over or women 55 or over who have two of the following risk factors: hypertension, diabetes, cigarette smoking, or elevated cholesterol), lung disease, and anyone with asthma and on the maximum dosage of medication for daily maintenance, or anyone who has been hospitalized for asthma within a year of their intended trip. It's best to talk with your doctor before planning a trip to a high-altitude destination in South America.
What To Do If You Get Sick Away From Home
For travel abroad, you may have to pay all medical costs upfront and be reimbursed later. (Medicare and Medicaid do not provide coverage for medical costs outside the U.S.) Before leaving home, find out what medical services your health insurance covers. To protect yourself, consider buying medical travel insurance.
Very few health insurance plans pay for medical evacuation. (which can cost $10,000 and up). A number of companies offer medical evacuation services anywhere in the world. If you're ever hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, MedjetAssist (tel. 800/527-7478; www.medjetassistance.com) will pick you up and fly you to the hospital of your choice virtually anywhere in the world in a medically equipped and staffed aircraft 24 hours day, 7 days a week.
If you suffer from a chronic illness, consult your doctor before your departure. Pack prescription medications in your carry-on luggage, and carry them in their original containers, with pharmacy labels -- otherwise they won't make it through airport security. Carry the generic name of prescription medicines, in case a local pharmacist is unfamiliar with the brand name.
Healthy Travels to You
The following government websites offer up-to-date health-related travel advice.
- Australia: www.dfat.gov.au/travel
- Canada: www.hc-sc.gc.ca/index_e.html
- U.K.: www.dh.gov.uk/en/Policyandguidance/Healthadvicefortravellers
- U.S.: www.cdc.gov/travel
Millions of travelers visit South America without any problems. But as in any foreign destination, you should always keep your wits about you. Before you depart, check for travel advisories from the U.S. Department of State (www.travel.state.gov), the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.voyage.gc.ca), the U.K. Foreign & Commonwealth Office (www.fco.gov.uk/travel), the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.mfat.govt.nz), and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.dfat.gov.au).
Once you're there, keep some common-sense safety advice in mind: Stay alert and be aware of your surroundings; don't walk down dark, deserted streets; and always keep an eye on your personal belongings. Theft at airports and bus stations is not unheard of, so be sure to put a lock on your luggage.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.