How to Stay Healthy and Zika-Free at the Rio Olympics

Rio de Janeiro


  • Reports confirm that Zika mosquitoes have just reached the US. Brazil is at the center of the current epidemic.
  • Leading expert, CDC’s Dr. Cetron, provides disease prevention and treatment tips for travel.
  • Advice addresses Zika, malaria, yellow fever, hepatitis A, traveler’s diarrhea, and water-borne diseases.
– – – – –

Dr. Martin Cetron from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently delivered expert advice on everything you need to know to stay healthy at the Rio Olympics. Here are the most important takeaways:

Let’s Talk Zika First

Zika is a serious concern for anyone traveling to Rio, even if you aren’t planning to have children any time soon. Yes, this means you! Even if you don’t get sick, you can easily spread the virus to someone else. Zika can cause serious brain defects in newborns after infecting pregnant mothers and can be fatal in people with compromised immune systems. If you’re elderly, bringing young children, or planning to be pregnant anytime in the next six months, you should seriously consider not going.

If you do travel, here are some tips to prevent infection:

  • Keep your limbs covered with long sleeves and pants (preferably with permethrin-treated fabric).
  • Sleep under mosquito nets in rooms with A/C.
  • Use bug spray with DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), or para-menthane-diol.
  • Plan to use a condom at the games and for the next 6 months.

When you get back home, don’t bring Zika with you. Zika can incubate for up to 2 weeks without causing any symptoms and can be passed onto other people through mosquitoes and bodily fluids. So, even if you haven’t shown any signs of illness, you should be extra careful about minimizing mosquito bites and bodily fluid contact for at least 3 weeks after returning home.

Tips for Other Common Diseases

Outside of Zika, Brazil still has some other health issues you’ll want to avoid:

Malaria, Yellow Fever, Hepatitis A

Before your trip, visit your primary care doctor and look into immunizations for the flu, hepatitis A, typhoid, and maybe, hepatitis B. Also consider getting a yellow fever vaccine or malaria prophylaxis if you’ll be touring outside the Olympic host city where those diseases are more common. You could also consider a rabies vaccine if you might come into contact with animals.

Traveler’s Diarrhea

Realistically, the most likely illness you might face in Brazil is traveler’s diarrhea. You can do a lot to protect yourself by eating and drinking sterile foods. What does that mean? Only drink bottled water and only eat hot-cooked food. Use bottled water even when you’re brushing your teeth.

If you get a stomach bug, stay hydrated (bottled water!). Over-the-counter medicines like Pepto Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate) to settle an upset stomach will also help. As a secret weapon, you can ask your doctor for a single dose of antibiotic to bring with you just in case. Dr. Cetron suggests taking the antibiotic after you start to feel sick, but to make sure you can keep it down after swallowing it. Later, it might be a good idea to use some probiotics to nurse your gut microbes back to health.

Water-Borne Diseases

Lastly, think twice before going for a swim. Many of Rio’s beaches and rivers are currently contaminated with sewage, and that water can make you really sick. You’ll be safer swimming in chlorinated pools. Always cover open wounds with waterproof bandages, and try not to swallow any water when swimming. If you really feel the urge to hit a beach, look out for posted signs about local water quality.

Staying healthy on your trip to Rio is easy. Just get your immunizations, avoid mosquitoes, consume clean food and water, and be careful where you swim. Have fun at the games!

  • Co-author: Benita Lee
  • Yox S & Cetron M. (2016). Patients Going to Rio Olympics? Here’s the Advice You Should Give. Medscape. [source link]