Food and waterborne diseases are the number one cause of illness in travelers. Travelers' diarrhea can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites, which are found universally throughout the region and can contaminate food or water. Infections may cause diarrhea and vomiting (E. coli, Salmonella, cholera, and parasites), fever (typhoid fever and toxoplasmosis), or liver damage (hepatitis). Make sure your food and drinking water are safe (see below).
Malaria is a preventable infection that can be fatal if left untreated. Prevent infection by taking prescription antimalarial drugs and protecting yourself against mosquito bites (see below). Malaria risk in this region exists in some urban and many rural areas, depending on elevation.
A certificate of yellow fever vaccination may be required for entry into certain of these countries.
If you visit the Andes Mountains, ascend gradually to allow time for your body to adjust to the high altitude, which can cause insomnia, headaches, nausea, and altitude sickness. In addition, use sunblock rated at least 15 SPF, because the risk of sunburn is greater at high altitudes.
Dengue, filariasis, leishmaniasis, onchocerciasis, and American trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease) are other diseases carried by insects that also occur in this region. Protecting yourself against insect bites (see below) will help to prevent these diseases.
Because motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of injury among travelers, walk and drive defensively. Avoid nighttime travel if possible and always use seat belts.