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Major Health Problems in Bolivia

It is recommended that all travelers visit a travel physician 4 – 8 weeks prior to departure for Bolivia. It is also a good idea to look into medical insurance before traveling in Bolivia.

Bug bites are a major cause of serious illnesses in Bolivia. It is essential to take precautions to protect yourself from insects. Apply insect repellent with at least 25 – 50% DEET. Applying repellent to your hair is good way to make the scent stay on your body longer. Sleep under a mosquito net, and wear light-colored clothes and shirts with long sleeves. Avoid wearing shiny jewelry and using scented soaps or perfumes.

Chagas Disease

Chagas disease is caused by a parasite transmitted by triatomine bugs, or vinchuca, as they are known in Bolivia. The disease occurs in impoverished rural areas of Bolivia. Triatomine bugs carrying the parasite live in dwellings made from earth, straw and thatch, and can pass Chagas at night when they emerge to bite people's faces. Infection can also occur through food contaminated with feces from infected bugs. Left undiagnosed and untreated, the disease can become chronic and fatal. There is no vaccine for Chagas disease. Stay in well-built lodging and protect yourself against bug bites.

Dengue Fever

Dengue fever is a flu-like illness transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, common in both urban and rural areas. Bites normally occur in the daytime. Bolivia experiences frequent Dengue fever outbreaks, mostly in the the departments of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Cochabamba, as well as the area of Yacuiba in the department of Tarija, and in Chuquisaca and La Paz. There is no vaccine for the Dengue fever. Take appropriate precautions to protect yourself from insect bites.


Hepatitis A and B vaccines are recommended for all travelers to Bolivia. Avoid situations where you could be subject to being punctured by a dirty needle. Stay away from any sort of questionable injection and avoid getting any piercings or tattoos.


Leishmaniasis is caused by a parasite transmitted by sandflies, most active from dusk to dawn. The disease occurs in the Yungas area of Bolivia and manifests itself in the form of fever, skin ulcers and disfigurement of the mucous membranes of the nose, mouth and throat. There is no vaccine for Leishmaniasis. Protect yourself against insect bites and use finer-meshed mosquito netting.


Malaria is present in areas of Bolivia below 2,500 meters (8,202 ft). Malaria risk is highest in the departments of Beni, Chuquisaca, Cochabamba, Pando, Santa Cruz, Tarija and La Paz Department (North and South Yungas), as well as the provinces of Lacareja and Rurrenabaque. If you are only traveling in the Andes, you run no risk of contracting malaria. If you’re going to travel to Bolivia’s lowlands, you may want to take a preventative medicine, such as Mefloquine, Malarone or Doxycycline.

Mosquitoes carrying malaria are evening and nighttime biters. Many areas of the Amazon are relatively mosquito-free because blackwater rivers are inhospitable breeding grounds for mosquitoes. It is essential that you take insect protection measures.


In Bolivia, most rabies cases stem from dog bites. Stray dogs are usually harmless, however guard dog attacks are more common. On long hikes in rural areas, always carry a walking stick to defend yourself if a dog starts to attack. In case you are bitten by a dog, rabies vaccinations are readily available in La Paz and other major cities. A rabies vaccine is recommended for long-term travelers and all traverers planning on spending a significant amount of time outdoors, who are at risk for animal bites, or going to be in direct contact with bats.


A typhoid vaccine is recommended for all travelers to Bolivia, except short-term visitors who plan on dining in major hotels and restaurants. Typhoid is common in Bolivia, especially if you go far from usual tourist areas. The disease is transmitted through food or drink that has been contaminated by feces. The best way to avoid typhoid is to eat only in very clean restaurants or prepare your food yourself after cleaning it thoroughly. An oral capsule or injection should be taken if you are planning to travel in Bolivia or South America for an extended period of time (six months or more).

Yellow Fever

Yellow Fever is a mosquito-born disease endemic to Bolivia and many other parts of South America. The vaccine is good for ten years and is required for all travelers entering Boivia. Yellow fever is predominantly found in the areas east of the Andes.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Bolivia: Salar de Uyuni Highlights (Salt Flats Tour Highlights), Safety, Quebrada Seca, Carnaval in Oruro, San Ignacio de Moxos Festival, When to go to Sucre, Climbing, Safety, Accommodation Overview and Amazon Basin History.

17 Feb 2010

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