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Health in Peru - Info. Peru

When traveling abroad, many people get overly preoccupied with the dangers associated with tropical diseases and what to do if they fall sick. However, other than the somewhat inevitable and rarely threatening diarrhea associated with changes in diet, very few travelers suffer serious illness when in Peru. A key to avoiding sickness while abroad is preparation. Although less equipped in rural areas, most Peruvian cities have good health facilities and numerous pharmacies that will provide medicines in the eventuality that you become ill during your travels.

One obvious precautionary measure is to take out travel insurance that covers medical necessities. See Travel Insurance for more information. Bring along a copy of your insurance card or policy, and make sure that you have your insurance provider's emergency number on you at all times. If you are undertaking travel for an extensive period of time there are a few recommendations to consider before departing; a dental check-up could prove useful and, for those who suffer from diabetes, heart trouble/cardio-pulmonary disease, high blood pressure or cholesterol problems, consultation with your doctor is highly advised prior to travel.

Pack a small first aid kit with any medicine you take on a regular basis, plus some anti-diarrheal pills, aspirin, insect repellent and sunscreen. Most of these items are available in cities all around Peru, however if you prefer or require a certain type or brand—hypoallergenic, for example—it is best to bring it from home than to risk not finding what you need. Insurance companies recommend taking written records of any medical conditions and their proper names of any medication you are taking.

Bring prescription medicines with you, ideally with a copy of your prescription, so that you have the details to be able to pick up more if necessary. Keep your prescription medication in your hand baggage and be sure to carry an extra set of contact lenses or glasses.

You are not required by law to have any vaccinations in order to enter Peru, but Hepatitis A, Typhoid and Yellow Fever vaccinations are recommended.

For more information on traveling and diseases, consult the U.S. government’s Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov), the U.K.’s National Travel Health Network and Centre (www.nathnac.org) or your embassy’s website. Another useful independent site is the British-based Travel Health (www.travelhealth.co.uk).

MINOR HEALTH RISKS

Altitude Sickness

When traveling in the Peruvian Andes, it is important to rest for a few days when you first arrive, and especially before doing any kind of hiking or exercise. Drink lots of bottled water and avoid alcohol and caffeine during your first few days at altitude. Should you feel a severe headache, drowsiness, confusion, dry cough, and/or breathlessness, drink lots of water and rest. Altitude sickness can develop very quickly and even the healthiest person can suffer. Ascending slowly is important (e.g. don't go off for a hike as soon as you arrive at altitude), and resting and keeping hydrated are the best ways to avoid or combat altitude sickness. Chewing coca leaves or drinking coca tea also helps. If you need something a little stronger, you can dry Diamox (acetazolamide), a common medicine for preventing or treating altitude sickness which is available without prescription in pharmacies in Peru. There can be side-effects however, so it is advisable to consult your doctor before taking it. If symptoms of altitude sickness persist, seek medical attention, and whatever you do, do not ascend any higher-this can be dangerous or even fatal.

Frostbite

Frostbite is simply the freezing of the skin and is most commonly suffered at higher altitudes. This can usually be avoided if you wear proper clothing—double thick socks, gloves and a ski-mask can all help. Wear water-resistant clothing and change out of wet clothes immediately if you can. Smoking and drinking alcohol also raise your risk of frostbite because they decrease your circulation. The most common places to get frostbite are on the hands and feet, although exposed facial areas like the ears, nose and cheeks are also vulnerable. The first signs of frostbite are usually tingling, numbness, and discoloration of the skin to white or yellow. When you begin to warm up you will start feeling pain in the affected area, and it may turn red and swell. The best way to treat frostbite is to soak the skin in warm, but not hot, water until feeling returns. Only begin treatment when you are safely out of the cold.

Motion Sickness

Even the hardiest of travelers can be hit by motion sickness on the buses in the Andes and boats off the Peruvian coastline. 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 motion sickness: in Peru, go to a pharmacy and ask for Mareol, a liquid medicine similar to Dramamine.

Sunburn/Heat Exhaustion

Peru is not far from 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 when you are outside. If you get a 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 water. 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 area until your body temperature normalizes and drink lots of water. If the symptoms continue, consult a doctor.

Traveler's Diarrhea

This is the most common illness experienced by travelers. There is no vaccine to protect you from traveler's diarrhea; it is avoided by eating and drinking sensibly. 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. 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. Only drink bottled water.

If you do get diarrhea, the best way to treat it 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 5 days, see a doctor.

Water Hazards

Before swimming in local waters you should always enquire about their safety. Be extremely careful about swimming in piranha infested rivers. Do not swim naked as some waters are populated by candirĂş fish that trace urine currents and can enter bodily orifices. When bathing, wear sandals as some tropical fish eject venom if trodden on.

MAJOR HEALTH RISKS

AIDS (SIDA)

As in many parts of the world, AIDS infections are increasing. The virus, HIV, is transmitted through injection by unsterilized needles previously used by a HIV sufferer and, increasingly, via unprotected sex. You should always practice safe sex and it is worth avoiding the likes of acupuncture and tattooing unless certain of the location’s hygiene standards and safety. The HIV infection does not always trigger an automatic illness and only can be confirmed by a blood test.

Dengue Fever

At times, Peru experiences outbreaks of dengue fever. Dengue fever is a mosquito-transmitted, viral infection that is most common in densely populated urban areas. The best prevention is avoiding insect bites. The symptoms, which appear seven to 10 days after exposure, are similar to a severe flu: intense joint and muscle pains, fever, vomiting and headaches. Often a rash follows. There is no immediate cure for dengue fever and, as well as taking plenty of fluids and non-aspirin pain killer (acetaminophen or paracetamol), medical assistance should be sought in the unlikely eventuality that you contract the hemorrhagic form of the disease.

Hepatitis A and B.

It is recommended to get vaccinated against hepatitis A, since this strand of the disease can be caught from contaminated food or water. If you are planning to stay in Peru for more than six months or if you're going to work in a hospital, it may a good idea to get a vaccination against hepatitis B too. A hepatitis B vaccination is not considered necessary for short-term travelers. It is not a good idea to get a piercing while traveling, especially at the popular outdoor markets.

Malaria

If you are only visiting Lima, Cusco, Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, Arequipa, Tacna, or high altitude destinations over 1000 meters (3,280 ft), there is no known risk of malaria. In other areas there is potentially a risk and you should take prevention pills. Mosquitoes carrying malaria are evening and nighttime biters. Thoroughly apply insect repellent with at least 30% DEET. Applying 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 using scented soaps or perfumes.

Rabies

There are stray dogs throughout Peru 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. Public hospitals have free rabies vaccinations, if you have been unfortunate enough to have been bitten. Getting the rabies vaccination before traveling is recommended if you are going to be far away from medical treatment while in Peru (e.g. in the Amazon): it will buy you time if you get bitten (you will still need to receive the post-exposure vaccination however).

Typhoid

An oral capsule or injection should be taken before travel, and the injection needs boosting every 3 years.

Yellow Fever

This mosquito-born disease is endemic to many parts of South America. Talk to your doctor before taking the vaccine, as it is not recommended for people with certain allergies (especially those with egg allergies), pregnant women and other special cases. The vaccine is good for ten years. You will be given a certificate after vaccination. Keep hold of it, as after traveling in Peru, you may need it to enter other countries. As well as the above, make sure that you are up to date with your Polio and Tetanus jabs.

HOSPITALS AND PHARMACIES

Major Peruvian cities have good private and public general and pediatric hospitals, including 24-hour medical facilities. Rural areas normally have only basic medical facilities. In cities and bigger towns you will generally find private clinics where staff speak English.

Pharmacies in Peru are common, and usually easy to find. It's tradition in Peru to save a trip to the doctor by heading to the pharmacy, where one can get recommendations from a pharmacist. Good chains are Boticas Fasa, Boticas Tassara and Superfarma.

See individual towns for hospital and pharmacy listings.

Should a life-threatening medical problem arise, you may have to be evacuated to a country with more developed facilities. Check with your health insurance provider to make sure you are covered should this occur.

Don't Get Bitten!

Avoidance of mosquito bites is the key to preventing dengue and malaria. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes that carry these diseases are active at different times of the day: the Aedes aegypti, which transmits dengue, is active from dusk to dawn, while the Anopheles, which carries malaria, is active from dusk to dawn. This means mosquito bite prevention is a 24-hour job. Use DEET-based mosquito repellent (avoid contact with plastics) and wear long, loose garments. Avoid dark colors, shiny jewelry and scented soaps or perfumes, as these attract mosquitoes. Look for lodging that is away from standing pools of water, and that provides screens on doors and windows, or a mosquito net on the bed (or tote your own, preferably permethrin-treated). Burn mosquito coils in your room. Additionally, mosquitoes do not, as a rule, like moving air, so sleep with a fan blowing on you. Do not scratch the bite; this can lead to infection in tropical climes. In malarial areas, use appropriate prophylactic medications; no such prevention for dengue exists. Upon returning home, have a check-up if you suspect that you have been exposed to malaria or dengue. That said, few travelers have any problems with either disease so long as they heed the above recommendations.

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Peru

Info., Medical, Traveler Advice

Medical and Safety in Peru.








08 Jun 2012





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