For those paying attention to the preparations for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro this summer, there has been no escaping the controversy and speculation surrounding the Zika virus. A dangerous disease that has wreaked havoc in many parts of South America and, more recently, the USA, Zika has rightly been flagged as a concern. [Take a look at our article on the some of the most commonly asked Zika questions in our recent article here.

But as many health experts have been quick to point out, the chances of contracting Zika are still relatively small compared to many other health concerns in Brazil. If you are heading to Rio in the coming weeks, here are 5 things to be just as careful to protect yourself against.


1. Water-borne illnesses

Rio’s waterways have been in the international news more regularly than event organisers would have liked lately. A report commissioned by the Associated Press has shown that the Olympics’ open water events are at risk due to severe contamination with raw human sewage, at rates more than 1.7 million times higher than what Europe and the US would deem unacceptable.

In fact, triathletes have been told not to put their heads under the water at the Olympics, as just three teaspoons of the water is “certain” to cause athletes to become violently ill. Respiratory tract infections, stomach upsets and even Hepatitis A are among the perceived risks. On that basis, tourists visiting areas such as the popular Guanabara Bay are advised not to step foot in the water.

2. Flu and other winter diseases

Whilst August is the height of summer in the northern hemisphere, it is a cooler month below the equator. Of course, temperatures hardly ever drop below 20° C in tropical Brazil, but winter illnesses such as flu are still a risk. Health experts in the World Health Organisation (WHO) advise high-risk travellers (such as pregnant women, elderly people or those with respiratory conditions such as asthma) to get a flu jab before they leave.

Other illnesses that are less common in Britain, such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria and polio, can all be vaccinated against before travel. Check with the team here at Express Travel Clinic who can advise on getting your injections up to date.

3. Sunburn, heatstroke and skin cancer

Despite the cooler days, temperatures in Rio will be a lot higher than British tourists are perhaps used to. Rio still sees a lot of sunshine in August, so it is important to protect from sunburn and heatstroke. Spectators of the Olympic Games have been warned that sunburn should be their main concern, due to the long periods of standing out in the sun to watch the events.

Be sure to apply a sunscreen of at least SPF 15 every two hours on all exposed skin, and check that your sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Keep a water bottle with you to avoid heat exhaustion which can lead to heatstroke.

Also, don’t forget that whilst Rio may seem like a perfect opportunity to get a tan, prolonged exposure to the sun can put you at risk of skin cancer, the fifth most common cancer in the UK.

4. Bedbugs

Even if you aren’t travelling to Brazil to watch the Olympics, the price of flights and accommodation to the region have soared in the wake of the Games. Huge costs have prompted some travellers to look into budget accommodation such as backpackers’ hostels. But it is worth bearing in mind that taking a risk on accommodation in order to save cash can have health implications.

Bedbugs are a danger anywhere you travel, but as Rio will see a huge spike in international visitors, you may be at a higher risk this summer as travellers unknowingly carry the bugs in their clothes and suitcases. Bedbug bites are not particularly harmful, as they generally cause nothing more than a bit of swelling and itching.

However, in some cases repeated bites may lead to skin infections and even allergic reactions. It is also worth noting that bedbugs can live comfortably in your clothes for long periods of time and it is even possibly to transport them back home with you – putting you at risk of an infestation in your own bed.

Make sure you plan where you’re staying before you arrive, and check reviews and local reports for any potential risk of bedbugs. Where necessary, take steps to clean sheets and use non-toxic repellants to avoid bites.

5. Dengue and Chikungunya

Dengue and Chikungunya are, like Zika, viruses transmitted by mosquitoes. The WHO highlighted these viruses in a warning to travellers visiting Brazil this summer, making it clear that some viruses are in fact more worrying than Zika.

Dengue is known to be a proxy through which the Zika virus can spread, as the two are both carried by the same type of mosquito. Fortunately, reports of dengue fever have been down in recent months as the mosquito season in Brazil comes to a close over winter.

Chikungunya is another illness also carried by this mosquito, which causes fever and debilitating joint pain. Unfortunately, there is no vaccination for Chikungunya, so travellers are advised to be aware of signs and symptoms.

Fever and joint pain can come on quickly, possibly accompanied by a rash, nausea and migraine. Symptoms usually start between 4 and 8 days after a mosquito bite. To reduce the chances of being bitten by a mosquito, be sure to use insect repellent, wear long clothes and sleep under a mosquito net.