Venezuela has both public and private healthcare services. The public health service is run by the government and offers free treatment but charges for prescriptions. Conditions, however, are often different to what tourists may be used to. Private hospitals offer a higher standard of treatment but these require large deposits or a credit card, even for emergencies, and can be very expensive. The private ambulance service in Venezuela will also cost a lot to use. Public ambulances can be found at Police and National Guard checkpoints (alcabala) all over the country or called from the nearest hospital or the Defensa Civil in the case of an emergency.
For minor illnesses or health problems, Venezuela has many good pharmacies which stock almost all brand medicines, and you can buy most brands sold at home, often at a cheaper price. Pharmacists will give you free advice, and you can purchase most medication without a prescription.
No vaccinations are mandatory for Venezuela unless you are travelling from an infected country, in which case officials may ask to see a vaccination certificate.
Many diseases can be easily avoided if the right precautions are taken. Always drink bottled water and check that ice in drinks is made from purified water, which is usually the case. Generally, you should not have any problems with Venezuelan food, even from street vendors, but do give your stomach enough time to adjust and be careful in the first few days.
Care also needs to be taken when out in the sun. The sun in Venezuela is very direct and extremely strong, so be sure to wear a hat and use a high protector sunscreen to avoid sunburn and sunstroke.
The Cholera vaccination gives little protection against the disease and only lasts for six months. Cholera is caught mainly from contaminated water, thus it can be easily avoided if the above precautions are taken.
Hepatitis 'A' is a common disease among travellers. It is spread by contaminated food and water, and can be serious. Long term immunity (10 years or more) can be obtained from the Havrix vaccination, which consists of an initial injection and a booster six to twelve months later. Gamma Globulin is another form of prevention. It is not a vaccination but an antibody collected from blood donations. It usually lasts for up to six months, thus should be administered as close as possible to departure. It does not, however, provide the same protection as Havrix.
Hepatitis 'B' is a disease spread through contact with infected bodily fluids. It can be transmitted through blood transfusions, use of unclean needles or sexual activity. Any travellers visiting a country known to have many carriers of the disease, where blood transfusions may not be adequately screened or where sexual contact is possible should consider a hepatitis B vaccination. The vaccination consists of three injections, with at least four weeks between the first and second shots, and five months between the second and third.
Tetanus is a potentially fatal disease and occurs in wound infection. Diphtheria, a throat infection, can also be fatal. Everyone should be vaccinated against these diseases. In both cases, ten yearly boosters follow an initial course of three injections.
Yellow fever is a virus spread by mosquitos and is found in many parts of South America. In many countries, yellow fever is now the only vaccine that is a legal entry requirement, but is usually only enforced with travellers coming from infected areas. The vaccination is very effective, and one injection lasts for ten years. It is highly recommended for anyone who wishes to travel in or around South America. The vaccination may pose some risk during pregnancy, but is still advisable for women travelling to high-risk areas. People allergic to eggs may not be able to have the vaccination and this should be discussed with your doctor.
Malaria is a potentially fatal disease spread by a certain species of mosquito: the anopheles. Antimalarial drugs do not prevent infection, but reduce the risk of serious illness by killing the malarial parasites during their development. There are many factors to consider when choosing an anti-malarial and up-to-date, expert advice should be sought. Those travelling to high-risk areas where medical attention may be difficult to obtain are advised to carry a treatment dose of medication, in case symptoms develop. Malaria, however, is best prevented by avoiding mosquito bites. The risk can be significantly reduced by noting the following tips:
- Wear light colored trousers and long sleeved tops between dusk and dawn.
- Avoid wearing perfume or aftershave.
- Sleep in properly screened rooms and spray the room with insecticide.
- If sleeping elsewhere, use a mosquito net which has been treated with pyrethroids.
- Apply mosquito repellent containing diethyltoluamide (DEET) to all areas of exposed skin.
- A course of vitamin B complex tablets can help deter biting insects.
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