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Before You Go
If your health insurer doesn’t cover you for medical expenses incurred abroad, you’ll need to purchase extra travel insurance. Find out in advance if your travel insurer will make payments directly to providers or reimburse you later for overseas health expenditures.
Although no vaccinations are required to visit Rio, you should consider getting a yellow-fever vaccination. In 2017 an outbreak of this hemorrhagic fever swept across various parts of the country, reaching the periphery of Rio and over 230 people, including several tourists, died. Note that shortages of the vaccine (particularly in the US) in recent years have made for some long waits, so plan ahead.
The Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov) recommends you stay up to date on all the routine vaccines. These include vaccines for measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, varicella (chickenpox) and the polio vaccine. The CDC also recommends vaccines for hepatitis A and typhoid.
Since most vaccines don’t produce immunity until at least 10 days after they’re given, visit a physician well in advance of your departure. Ask your doctor for an International Certificate of Vaccination (otherwise known as the yellow booklet), which will list all the vaccinations you’ve received. This is mandatory for countries that require proof of yellow-fever vaccination upon entry, but it’s a good idea to carry it wherever you travel.
Zika Virus: Warning for Pregnant Travellers
Brazil has experienced several outbreaks of Zika virus since 2015. Transmitted by mosquitoes, Zika rarely causes illness – only one in five infected people will experience the flu-like symptoms. However, the virus has been linked to microcephaly (abnormally small head size with possible brain damage) in babies born to women who were infected while pregnant. Check the latest warnings with the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) before you travel. If there's an outbreak, pregnant women should consider postponing travel to Brazil.
In Rio de Janeiro
Tap water in Rio is safe to drink but, owing to the treatment process, it may not taste very pleasant. Aside from buying bottled water, you can bring your own filter to improve the taste. Some hotels have their own filtration system to improve the water quality.
Some private medical facilities in Rio are on a par with US hospitals. The UK and US consulates have lists of English-speaking physicians.
Clinica Galdino Campos The best hospital for foreigners, with high-quality care and multilingual doctors (who even make outpatient calls). The clinic works with most international health plans and travel-insurance policies.
Pharmacies stock all kinds of drugs and sell them much more cheaply than in the West. However, when buying drugs anywhere in South America, be sure to check the expiration dates and specific storage conditions. Some drugs that are available in Brazil may no longer be recommended, or may even be banned, in other countries. Common names of prescription medicines in South America are likely to be different from the ones you’re used to; ask a pharmacist before taking anything you’re not sure about.
There are scores of pharmacies in town, a number of which stay open 24 hours.