Flying down to Rio? Health tips for travelers

Rapinoe Solo Seattle Times
Soccer star Megan Rapinoe has the right idea! Mosquito repellent will protect Hope Solo and all travelers to the Olympics from Zika virus, malaria, dengue and other illnesses. Photo: Seattle Times Photography

We are so pumped for all of the Olympians representing King County and the USA, like weight lifter Morghan King from Redmond,  volleyball star Courtney Thompson from Kent, decathalete Jeremy Taiwo from Renton, diver Katrina Young from Shoreline, and the Seattle Reign’s Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo!

If you are heading to Rio to cheer on our Olympians, you may have heard about the toxic waterways and the threat of Zika at the Olympic host city. We’ve put together some relevant health tips just for you. First, if you are pregnant, please don’t go to the Olympics—the risk of Zika and the potential for birth defects in your baby are too high. For anyone else planning a trip to the Olympics:

  1. Update your vaccinations. Schedule an appointment ASAP with your healthcare provider to make sure you are up-to-date on all routine vaccines and additional recommended vaccines for Rio.
  2. Prevent mosquito bites. Mosquitoes can transmit Zika, malaria, dengue and other infectious diseases. Cover up with long sleeves and pants, stay in lodging with air-conditioning or screens on doors and windows (or sleep under a mosquito net), and use insect repellent (DEET is safe and effective).
  3. Avoid swimming in local fresh water or other contaminated water sources. Some recreational waters around Rio are contaminated with sewage and some have tested positive for bacteria that are resistant to anti-biotics. At recreational water sites, cover cuts with waterproof bandages and try to avoid swallowing water.
  4. Take precautions in the heat. Act like an Olympic athlete: stay hydrated with bottled water! Wear sunscreen and try to stay in the shade when you can.
  5. Take caution if eating food from street vendors. They may not be held to the same hygiene standards as we have here. Download the free Can I Eat This? app from the CDC to help you avoid the dreaded traveler’s diarrhea.
  6. Reduce your risk of STDs. You may be thinking, “What happens in Rio stays in Rio,” but sexually transmitted diseases don’t follow that rule. Importantly, Zika is one of those sexually transmitted diseases and can lead to severe birth defects. Learn how to protect yourself and your sexual partners.
  7. Consider purchasing travel health and medical evacuation insurance. It may give you greater peace of mind.
  8. Pack a travel health kit. Having a few medications and supplies is recommended if you don’t know whether you’ll be able to buy them or read the packaging in Brazil.
  9. If you get sick when you come back, tell your doctor about your travel history. Any pregnant women who have traveled to Brazil should tell their doctor about their travel, even if they don’t feel sick.
  10. And we wouldn’t be Public Health if we didn’t say: “Wash your hands frequently!”

For more travel health information, including a glossary of common Portuguese health terms and phrases, check out the CDC’s web page on the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Go Team King County, Go Team USA!

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I am a risk communications specialist at Public Health - Seattle & King County.