Vaccinations for Brazil: What you should know before you go

TransferWise content team
05.12.17
6 minute read

Are you considering travelling to Brazil? It’s the world’s fifth largest country and it’s jam packed with culture, cuisine, and charm. From vibrant cities, white sand beaches and the tropical rainforests, Brazil has a little something for everyone. However, because of all of its biodiversity, it's important that you learn if you need to get any shots or vaccines before you visit so you can stay healthy on your trip. Read on to find out what you can do to prepare yourself before you leave.

Immunisations, shots, vaccinations, is there a difference? What are they really?

Immunisations, shots, and vaccinations are related, but they're three different things. Immunisation is the overall process of making your body - your immune system - resilient to a disease or a virus. Shots, or an injection, is one way of immunising yourself. You usually get a shot at a doctor’s office or pharmacy. The shot contains a substance called a vaccination. This vaccination usually contains elements that stimulate your immune system so that your body recognises and becomes resilient to the disease or virus in the future. The immunisation process for different diseases or viruses varies. Some vaccines are administered at different points in your life and some require more than one shot. For example, the flu shot is administered annually, while a tetanus shot and booster are recommended every ten years.

Why should I get vaccinated if I’m travelling?

When you travel your body is exposed to different biological elements. Sometimes these are elements that you may never have experienced before, especially if you haven’t travelled to that country or region of the world. These new elements - coupled with the stress of travelling on planes, trains and automobiles - could potentially weaken your immune system and leave you vulnerable to falling ill or contracting a dangerous disease. This is why getting vaccinated before you travel is extremely important.

With the increased effectiveness of vaccines around the world in the past 100 years, governments started recommending - and even mandating at times - that citizens and visitors get certain vaccines before travelling. Even though it’s a personal measure, it’s in the best interest for the greater good. Large numbers of people being vaccinated has helped control the spread of, and even eradicated, some infectious diseases. For example, smallpox was a disease that plagued Europe in the late 1800s but in 1980 the World Health Organisation officially declared it obsolete due to effective vaccination worldwide.

What are some recent disease or virus outbreaks in Brazil or South America that I should be prepared for?

Brazil is a high risk area for the Zika virus, which is carried by mosquitoes and can potentially cause severe birth defects. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) warns that pregnant women or women who are considering getting pregnant avoid travel to Brazil or at least consult with their doctors or research the risks before travelling to Brazil. There’s no vaccine for Zika, but preventative measures can be taken to avoid getting mosquito bites and transferring the virus through sexual contact.

There’s also a current outbreak of yellow fever in several areas in Brazil. At first, cases were limited to Minas Gerais, but confirmed reports of cases have now spread to other neighbouring states. At its most extreme, this disease can be fatal, and deaths have been reported. Health authorities recommend that travellers who are 9 months or older going to the Brazilian states of Minas Gerais, Espírito Santo, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and parts of Bahia get the yellow fever vaccine or booster.

When should I get vaccinated?

It’s recommended that you check with your doctor about six weeks before you travel to ensure that all of your routine vaccinations are up-to-date. Depending on the disease, the full immunisation process may require more than one round of receiving the vaccination. This could mean multiple shots over a longer period, so make sure you give yourself enough time before departure.

The CDC warns that travellers should contact a yellow fever vaccine provider well in advance of travel because there’s a shortage of yellow fever vaccine in some areas.This is important when going to Brazil due to recent yellow fever outbreaks.

If I travel to Brazil, what vaccinations and shots are required or do I need

While no vaccinations are required for short-term visitors, here is a list of vaccines and shots that are recommended before travelling to Brazil:

Disease/vaccine Vaccine required? Recommended For... Reason
Measles - mumps - rubella (MMR) No All travellers This is a routine vaccination that should be done before travelling to any country.
Diphtheria - tetanus - pertussis vaccine No All travellers This is a routine vaccination that should be done before travelling to any country.
Varicella (chickenpox) vaccine No All travellers This is a routine vaccination that should be done before travelling to any country.
Polio vaccine No All travellers This is a routine vaccination that should be done before travelling to any country.
Flu shot No All travellers This is a routine vaccination that should be done before travelling to any country.
Hepatitis A No Most travellers Hepatitis A can be contracted through contaminated food or water in Brazil.
Malaria No Some travellers There’s a risk of contracting malaria through mosquito bites in Brazil. Travellers should take precaution not to get bitten by mosquitoes while in Brazil.
Yellow fever Yes, for people arriving from Angola or the Democratic People’s Republic of Congo All travellers over the age of 9 months going to areas in Brazil currently experiencing an outbreak, including the states of Minas Gerais, Espirito Santo, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and parts of Bahia Yellow fever can be contracted through mosquito bites. Travellers should take preventative measures not to get bitten by mosquitos.
Rabies No Travellers involved in outdoor and other activities or those working closely with animals Rabies can be found in several animals in Brazil such as dogs, bats and other mammals.
Hepatitis B No Travellers who might have sex with a new partner or have any procedures involving needles Hepatitis B can be contracted through sexual contact with someone who has it, or by using contaminated needles and blood products.

When is the best time to travel to Brazil?

A lot of the high-risk diseases and viruses in Brazil are contracted through mosquito bites. Brazil is known as the ‘epicenter of the Zika outbreak’ according to the World Health Organisation. Mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus like warm weather, moisture, and heavy rain. Thus, travellers may want to avoid the summer rainy season in Brazil between November and May. To lower your risk of getting bitten, wear long sleeves and use bug spray with lots of DEET (even though it’s not great for the environment).

What if I get sick while I’m in Brazil? Who do I call for an emergency?

Brazilian cities are usually well equipped to deal with medical emergencies, but if you’re in the country, you may have to plan to travel quite a way to find treatment. If you have an emergency in Brazil you can always dial the police on 190. For an ambulance you can dial 192. Travellers can also contact consular agencies from their own countries, including:

Beautiful and vibrant Brazil is a popular destination for many international tourists. If you’re planning to visit, you should prepare by researching the recommended vaccinations that you might want before you go. Since you aren’t actually required to vaccinate yourself, you’ll have to use your best judgment to decide what to do. You can use this guide to help you understand how to stay safe and healthy on your trip.

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