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Health in Ecuador

While traveling in Ecuador, it is important to feel safe and at ease. Do not focus on all the potential diseases you could contract. Follow our preparation guidelines and you should be fine. However, should you have a medical emergency, remember that after Cuba, Ecuador has the best private health care system in Latin America. So even if it might cut into your budget, you will receive the best of care. Pharmacies in Ecuador are conveniently located and common. As with most Latin American countries, if you tell the pharmacist your symptoms, then he / she will often be able to recommend what you need, helping to avoid a costly visit to the doctor. Reliable national chains are Fybeca and Pharmacys.

Minor Health Problems

Altitude Sickness

When traveling in the Ecuadorian Andes it is important to rest the first few days and drink lots of bottled water, limit fatty foods and avoid alcohol. Take things slowly; don’t immediate go running around sightseeing. Should you feel a severe headache, drowsiness, confusion, dry cough, and / or breathlessness, rest. If the symptoms continue, you may want to move to a lower altitude. Anyone planning to hike at high altitudes is advised to relax in a high altitude city such as Quito for a few days before any physical exertion.

Note that altitude sickness, locally called soroche, can come on suddenly if you experience a sudden change of altitude. You may get it if you ride the Telefériqo to the top of the mountain or take a bus to the refuge at Cotopaxi, even if you’ve been in Quito or another highland city for a while. Even native Quiteños have been known to occasionally pass out at the top of the Telefériqo, so take care!

Sunburn / Heat Exhaustion

Ecuador straddles the equator; therefore, even at high altitudes where cool breezes constantly blow and snow can accumulate, the sun is incredibly strong. Apply sunscreen with at least an SPF of 30 every few hours you are outside. The sun in Galápagos and on the coast is particularly strong and unprepared visitors get badly burned all the time. If you get severe sunburn, treat it with a cream and stay out of the sun for a while.

To avoid overheating, wear a hat and sunglasses and drink lots of liquids. Overweight people are more susceptible to sun stroke. The symptoms of heat exhaustion are profuse sweating, weakness, exhaustion, muscle cramps, rapid pulse and vomiting. If you experience heat stroke, go to a cool, shaded or air conditioned area until your body temperature normalizes and drink a lot of liquids. If the symptoms continue, consult a doctor. Note: Drinking only water is not enough, as your body loses salts when you sweat. Drink sports beverages like Gatorade or coconut milk; in a pinch, mix six teaspoons of sugar and a half-teaspoon of salt in a liter of purified water.

Motion Sickness

Even the hardiest of travelers can be hit by motion sickness on the buses in the Andes and boats in the Galápagos. Sit near the front of the bus or stay above deck on the boat and focus on the horizon. If you are prone to motion sickness, eat light, non-greasy food before traveling and avoid drinking too much, particularly alcohol. Over-the-counter medications such as Dramamine can prevent it: in Ecuador, go to a pharmacy and ask for Mareol, a liquid medicine similar to Dramamine. Some travelers also say that ginger candies or tea is helpful. If you suffer from severe motion sickness, you may want to get a prescription for something stronger, like the patch.

Traveler’s Diarrhea

This is probably the most common disease for travelers. There is no vaccine to protect you from traveler’s diarrhea; it is avoided by eating sensibly. Contrary to popular belief, it is usually transmitted by food, not contaminated water. Eat only steaming hot food that has been cooked all the way through in clean establishments. Avoid raw lettuce and fruit that cannot be peeled, like strawberries. Vegetables are usually safer than meat. An inexpensive vegetable wash (known as vitalín) may be purchased at any supermarket and is a good way to ensure clean fruit and vegetables if you are cooking your own meals.

Make sure any milk you drink has been boiled. Avoid ice cream that could have melted and been refrozen, such as anything for sale in the street. Helado de paila does not contain milk and is safer. If you do get diarrhea, the best way is to let it run its course while staying hydrated with clear soups, lemon tea, Gatorade and soda that has gone flat. Bananas are also a good source of potassium and help stop diarrhea. If you need to travel and can’t afford to let the illness run its course, any pharmacy will give you something that will make you comfortable enough for a bus trip. If the diarrhea persists for more than five days, see a doctor.

More Serious Health Problems

If you are planning to live in Ecuador for more than six months or work in a hospital or with children, it may be a good idea to get a vaccination against Hepatitis A and B. The vaccine is not considered necessary for short-term travelers. Avoid situations where you could be subject to being punctured by a dirty needle. One of our writers was on a local bus on the coast where a nurse was giving out free measles shots while the bus was in motion. Needless to say, it is a good idea to stay away from any sort of questionable injection. It is also not a good idea to get a piercing while traveling, especially at the popular outdoor markets.

Most doctors around the world will tell you that if you travel anywhere in Ecuador, you must take pills to prevent malaria. This is not true. Malaria is only found on the Pacific Coast (but not in the Galápagos Islands) and in the Amazon Rainforest. If you are only traveling in the Andes and to the Galápagos, you run no risk of contracting malaria. However, if you plan to spend a lot of time along the Pacific Coast or in the Amazon Rainforest, it is a good idea to take the proper measure to prevent the disease. Mosquitoes carrying malaria are evening and nighttime biters. If you are planning to go to the Amazon rainforest for a couple of days, you might want to ask the staff of the lodge for recommendations. Many areas of the Amazon are relatively mosquito-free because black-water rivers are inhospitable breeding grounds to mosquitoes. Thoroughly apply insect repellent with at least 30 percent DEET. Applying it to your hair is good way to make the scent stay on your body longer. Sleep under a mosquito net. Wear light colored clothes and avoid shiny jewelry. Avoid using scented deodorants, soaps or perfumes.

There are stray dogs throughout Ecuador that are usually harmless. However, many home-owners train guard dogs to attack trespassers. 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 Quito and other major cities.

An oral capsule or injection should be taken before travel if you are planning to travel in Ecuador or South America for an extended period of time (six months or more). The oral vaccine needs boosting every five years, and the injection every three years.

Yellow Fever
This mosquito-borne disease is endemic to Ecuador and many other parts of South America. Talk to your doctor before taking the vaccine, as it is not recommended for people with certain allergies, pregnant women and other special cases. The vaccine is effective for up to ten years.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Ecuador: The Flag Cabrilla, Galápagos Health & Safety, Safety, Importing Goods into Ecuador, Social and Environmental Issues in Ecuador, Getting To and Away From Riobamba, Getting to and away from Baños, Geography of Ecuador, Galapágos Penguin and National Parks And Reserves.

10 Sep 2012

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