Planning a trip to Brazil? Here’s the lowdown on the drugs you’ll need

Yes, drugs. And the accompanying side effects.

It’s not possible to travel to many countries today without first getting topped up with a variety of inoculations and prescription drugs. Take Brazil, for instance. Getting the plane ticket or the cruise ship ticket is the easy part. Then it’s time to roll up your sleeve. The sleeve on your needle arm, that is.

Read on . . .

My husband and I are heading into the Amazon (that’s the famous river running through Brazil). Being newbies to this kind of travel, we were surprised to learn how much prep work there is for a visit to Brazil. Besides a Brazilian visa, we needed shots, and drugs.

Here is the line-up:

Yellow Fever

A visit to parts of Brazil (especially the Amazon territories) requires Yellow Fever vaccinations. In some cases (depending upon the countries you have visited or the country in which you live) it is mandatory; in all other cases yellow fever shots are highly recommended.

Your city’s health authority may have a travel division; ours did. But there are also privately run travel vaccination clinics that exist, too, so hunt around.

You must get your Yellow Fever shot a minimum of 10 days BEFORE entering Brazil. That’s to ensure the live vaccine has had time to settle into your immune system. And, of course, with any live vaccine you may be party to interesting side effects.

Within a couple of days of my shot, I noticed a tenderness in my left arm, the arm in which the shot was administered. Within hours, tenderness became pain, and it didn’t stay just near the shot area; pain ran along the underside of my arm, into my armpit and lymph nodes, and across my back. It was so intense at times, it was almost painful to take a breath. The symptoms were uncomfortable and a wee bit scary, but after 3 days, they were gone.

My husband appeared to be unaffected, but it was only a matter of time. Just shortly after my symptoms disappeared, his kicked in. His pain ran in another direction, from the shot site all the way down to his fingertips. However, like me, all his symptoms were gone in about 3 days.

Perhaps the only lasting effect of a Yellow Fever shot is the hit your wallet will take. Our shots cost $98CDN each; our health insurance does not cover travel vaccinations (I guess the insurance company would rather cover the fallout of our actually getting Yellow Fever, instead).

Included in the cost of the shots is a very necessary yellow card: an “international certificate of vaccination.” We MUST have this with us; it advises Brazilian authorities as to when and where our inoculations took place. (Yellow Fever vaccinations are good for 10 years.) Here’s a link for more information on Yellow Fever.

Besides Yellow Fever shots, you will need Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B shots. (We had already gotten these on a prior visit and experienced no side effects.)

Malaria Drugs

In addition, you’ll need some type of anti-Malaria drug (the female mosquito responsible for carrying the Malaria parasite from person-to-person exists in the Amazon and other parts of Brazil). There are a couple of anti-malaria drug options available, but there are fewer side effects attributed to one type of drug over another; we opted for Malarone since I am allergic to penicillin. Twelve tablets cost $66CDN each.

According to the druggist, while Malarone is not free of side effects like vivid dreams, stomach upsets, and flu-like symptoms, it’s easier on your system than a drug like Doxycycline which can cause extreme sensitivity to sunlight and a increase in vaginal yeast infections.

Friends say the worst side effects they experienced while taking Malarone were terrifying nightmares. There are other more lift-threatening side effects that might be experienced by a very tiny percentage of people taking the drugs, but your druggist will apprise you of these risks.

All anti-malaria drugs must be started at least one day prior to entering a malaria area; they must be taken every day while in the area; and then they must be taken for at least a week after leaving the area.

It’s suggested that Malarone, in particular, is taken with food at an evening meal, and that it is taken religiously at the same time daily. You should not skip a dosage, but if you do, just take a pill as soon as you remember. Do NOT double up on pills to make up for a missed dosage.

However, know this — there is NO immunity against malaria. You can still contract malaria, but you’ll have the anti-malaria drugs running in your system counteracting the effects of the disease. Here’s a link for more information on Malarone.

Another prescription you may be offered is an anti-diarrhea medication. We take this type of prescription (Ciprofloxacin) with us on all our trips, exotic or otherwise. The cost of foreign medication can be more painful that the illness so we prefer to buy this medication at home and pack it.

As with other medications, Ciprofloaxcin is not without its side effects, too.

As to airport security, keep all your medication in its original marked containers. Be sure your name on the drug containers matches the name of your travel documents.

One last word of advice, don’t pack your medication in your checked luggage. Keep all prescription medicine with you in your carry-on baggage.

Wishing you safe and happy travels,
Sheree Zielke

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