Health & insurance
Medical care is usually available in major cities, but may be quite difficult to find in rural areas. Pharmacies in Ecuador are known as farmácias. It can be challenging to find imported pharmaceutical items; bring essential health and hygiene supplies since these generally cost more in Ecuador.
Before You Go
Most doctors and hospitals will expect payment in cash, regardless of whether you have travel health insurance.
If you’re traveling into the Amazon, you should consider getting the yellow-fever vaccine (highly effective and good for at least 10 years) at least 10 days prior to arrival.
Typhoid fever, hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccines are also recommended for Ecuador. The typhoid vaccine must be administered at least two weeks prior to arrival.
Consult your health provider on which, if any, vaccines are appropriate to your situation.
It’s usually a good idea to consult your government’s travel health website before departure (if one is available):
- Australia www.smartraveller.gov.au
- Canada www.travelhealth.gc.ca
- UK www.nhs.uk/LiveWell/TravelHealth
- USA wwwnc.cdc.gov/Travel
Altitude sickness may develop in travelers who ascend rapidly to altitudes greater than 2500m, including those flying directly to Quito. 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 most common cause of death related to high altitude is high-altitude pulmonary edema.
To lessen the chance of getting altitude sickness, ascend gradually to higher altitudes, avoid overexertion, eat light meals and steer clear of alcohol and caffeine.
This is the worst of the watery diarrheas, and medical help should be sought. Outbreaks of cholera are generally widely reported, so you can avoid problem areas. Fluid replacement is the most vital treatment – the risk of dehydration is severe, as you may lose up to 20L a day. If there is a delay in getting to a hospital, then begin taking tetracycline. The adult dose is 250mg four times daily.
Unlike the malaria mosquito, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the dengue virus, is most active during the day and is found mainly in urban areas, in and around human dwellings.
Symptoms of dengue fever include a sudden onset of high fever, headache, joint and muscle pains (hence its old name, ‘breakbone fever’), and nausea and vomiting. Seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Malaria is transmitted by mosquito bites, usually between dusk and dawn. The main symptom is high-spiking fevers, often accompanied by chills, sweats, headache, body aches, weakness, vomiting or diarrhea. Severe cases may involve the central nervous system and lead to seizures, confusion, coma and death.
Taking malaria pills is recommended for all rural areas below 1500m, although some malaria medicine has its own range of nasty side effects. Risk is highest along the northernmost coast and in the northern Oriente. There is no malaria risk in the highlands.
A dangerous gut infection, typhoid fever is caused by contaminated water and food. Medical help must be sought.
In its early stages, sufferers may feel they have a bad cold or flu on the way, as initial symptoms are a headache, body aches and a fever that rises a little each day until it is around 40°C (104°F) or more. The victim’s pulse is often slow relative to the degree of fever present – unlike a normal fever, during which the pulse increases. There may also be vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation.
This viral disease is endemic in South America and is transmitted by mosquitoes. The initial symptoms are fever, headache, abdominal pain and vomiting. Seek medical care urgently and drink lots of fluids.
Availability & Cost of Health Care
Public health care is free for everyone in Ecuador, visitors included, although the quality of services varies.
Private medical services are quite inexpensive compared to the US, and in larger cities such as Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca, it's possible to find foreign-trained, English-speaking physicians.
Typically, patients must pay at the time of treatment. Contact your embassy or consulate for recommendations of quality providers should you require serious medical attention.
It's generally advisable not to drink tap water anywhere in Ecuador. Bottled water is widely available, and some hotels and guesthouses catering to foreigners provide purified water (agua purificada) for guests wishing to fill their own bottles.