Travelers who follow basic, common-sense precautions should have few problems traveling in Chile. Chile requires no special vaccines, but travelers should be up to date with routine shots. In temperate South America, mosquito-borne illnesses are generally not a problem, while most infections are related to the consumption of contaminated food and beverages.
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Infectious Diseases & Environmental Hazards
Bartonellosis (Oroya fever)
This is carried by sand flies in the arid river valleys on the western slopes of the Andes, between altitudes of 800m and 3000m. The chief symptoms are fever and severe body pains. Complications may include marked anemia, enlargement of the liver and spleen, and sometimes death. The drug of choice is chloramphenicol, though doxycycline is also effective.
A rapidly progressing, life-threatening infection acquired through exposure to the excretion of wild rodents. An outbreak was reported from rural areas in the southern and central parts of Chile in late 2010. Sporadic cases have been reported since that time. The disease occurs in those who live in close association with rodents.
It is unlikely to affect most travelers, though those staying in forest areas may be at risk. Backpackers should never camp in an abandoned refugio (rustic shelter), where there may be a risk of exposure to infected excretion. Pitching a tent is the safer option. If backpacking in an area with hanta virus, campers can get more information from ranger stations.
Also known as soroche, altitude sickness may develop in those who ascend rapidly to altitudes greater than 2500m. Symptoms may include headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, malaise, insomnia and loss of appetite. Severe cases may be complicated by fluid in the lungs (high-altitude pulmonary edema) or swelling of the brain (high-altitude cerebral edema).
The best treatment for altitude sickness is descent. If you are exhibiting symptoms, do not ascend. If symptoms are severe or persistent, descend immediately.
Take your time to acclimatize to higher altitudes and drink plenty of fluids, but not alcohol. If you are planning on high-altitude climbing or hiking, consider bringing prescription drug Diamox; you'll need to take it 24 hours before going into the region.
Chilean Recluse Spider
Found throughout the country, the Chilean recluse spider is not aggressive. Its venom is very dangerous: reactions can include lesions, renal failure and even death. Chilean recluse spiders are 8mm to 30mm long (including legs) and are identified by their brown color, violin-like markings and unusual six eyes (most spiders have eight). If bitten, put ice on the bite and get immediate medical attention.
Before You Go
Travelers should be up to date on routine vaccines. For specific recommendations, see wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/chile.htm.
It's recommended to have your own health insurance. If you develop a life-threatening medical problem you may want to be evacuated to your home country. Since this may cost thousands of dollars, be sure to have the appropriate insurance before you depart. Your embassy can also recommend medical services.
Availability & Cost of Health Care
Modern facilities in Santiago offer 24-hour walk-in service for urgent problems, as well as specialty care (by appointment) and inpatient services; these include Clínica Las Condes. For a list of additional physicians, dentists and laboratories in Santiago, go to the website of the US Embassy.
Medical care in Santiago and other cities is generally good, but it may be difficult to find assistance in remote areas. Most doctors and hospitals expect payment in cash, regardless of whether you have travel health insurance. You can find a list of medical evacuation and travel insurance companies on the website of the US State Department (www.state.gov).
Most pharmacies are well stocked and have trained pharmacists. Medication quality is comparable to other industrialized countries. Drugs that require a prescription elsewhere may be available over the counter here. If you're taking medication, have its generic (scientific) name handy for refills.
Medical care on Easter Island (Rapa Nui) and in towns of Northern Patagonia is extremely limited. Rural postas (clinics) are rarely well stocked with medicine and are usually attended by paramedics only. Serious medical problems require evacuation to a major city.
The tap water in Chile's cities is generally safe but has a high mineral content that can cause stomach upsets; bottled water is a good idea for delicate stomachs and in the north. Vigorous boiling for one minute is the most effective means of water purification. At altitudes greater than 2000m, boil for three minutes. You can also disinfect water with iodine pills, a water filter or Steripen.