5 Tips for Keeping Healthy & Safe at Rio Olympics

5 Tips for Keeping Healthy and Safe at Rio Olympics

Fans watching the olympics in Rio
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With its beaches, food, people, and night life, Rio is a guaranteed blast for an estimated 500,000 people traveling to the city for the 2016 Olympics. However, the promise of the Rio Olympics has been colored by various safety and health concerns, including pollution, crime, and a well-publicized Zika virus outbreak.

Wherever you travel, keeping safe and healthy is always priority number one. Here are five tips that should keep you rocking and rolling at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Wear Insect Repellent

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As you may have heard, there's a Zika outbreak going on in several Central and South American countries. Brazil happens to be the front line in our fight against the Zika virus. Although 80 percent of people infected with Zika virus never show symptoms, the Zika virus is deadly or damaging to unborn babies. Mothers infected with Zika virus have given birth to babies with profound birth defects, most notably microcephaly.

Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that usually harbors Zika virus, loves urban environments and is an aggressive day-biter. If you're traveling to Rio, use plenty of insect repellent and wear long-sleeved pants and shirts. Fortunately, it's now wintertime in Brazil so the temperatures are a bit lower. Wearing sleeves won't make you oppressively hot.

In addition to wearing insect repellent and long-sleeved clothing, it's a good idea to hang mosquito nets around your bed and keep your living space free of any standing water. For example, a forgotten ice bucket can make good breeding grounds for Aedes aegypti.

Please keep in mind that Zika virus is by no means the only mosquito-borne illness. Taking care to avoid mosquito bites can also save you from yellow fever, dengue, chikungunya and malaria. Furthermore, there are prescription medications that you can take to prevent malaria and a vaccine for yellow fever.

Protect Yourself from Sexually Transmitted Infections

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Zika virus can be spread by sex. Thus, it's recommended that all people traveling to Rio use protection like condoms and dental dams both while visiting the Games and for at least eight weeks after returning home.

Apparently, Zika can live in semen and vaginal fluids for an undetermined time. At this point, postponing unprotected sex for eight weeks is probably a projected minimum with some physicians recommending longer abstinence from unprotected sex. Furthermore, if you return from the Olympics and think you have Zika, you should get tested by your physician.

Obviously, Zika is only one of many sexually transmitted infections, and only one reason to use protection while having sex. Other sexually transmitted infection include HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, chlamydia and even super gonorrhea. Of note, although HIV prevalence rates in Brazil as a whole are on par with international frequencies, higher levels are noted in the south and southeast of the country—Rio de Janeiro is located in the southeast.

Avoid Contaminated Food & Water

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This year in Rio, Olympic rowers will need to keep focused on the competition and make sure to avoid getting splashed with the water. A 16-month Associated Press investigation found that the levels of viruses in waterways that are being used for the Rio Olympics equal that of raw sewage. In other words, Olympic rowers will essentially be rowing in untreated sewage.

Hopefully, tourists will keep water sports confined to the beaches, pools and other areas that the government has deemed safe to swim. Furthermore when swimming, it's best to keep cuts covered in waterproof bandages and avoid getting the water into your mouth.  

Please remember that contaminated water can also make its way into food and drink and cause traveler's diarrhea, hepatitis A, cholera and typhoid fever. While traveling, steer clear of ice in drinks and food sold by street vendors as well as raw or undercooked meat. Finally, it's probably a good idea to stick to bottled water, too.

If interested, the CDC offers a travel app titled "Can I Eat This?" that can help you make safe choices with respect to food and water.

Be Smart About Crime

Joan Farre

In recent months, violence and crime has been on the rise in Rio. Rio police officers claim that the government hasn't paid them in months. The Brazil police report that they can't protect visiting tourists from crime.

If you're a tourist visiting Rio, you should be vigilant with respect to your safety. Here are some things you can do to protect yourself while in Rio:

  • travel with a companion at night and avoid travel to unlit or unsafe areas
  • wear a money belt
  • drink in moderation
  • don't keep all your documents and money in one place
  • travel with a photocopy of your passport with entry stamp and leave your actual passport in a lockbox at the hotel
  • don't wear expensive clothes or jewelry
  • book hotel rooms between the second and sixth floors—rooms at ground level provide easy access to criminals, and rooms above the seventh floor make escape in case of fire more difficult
  • follow all local laws and social customs
  • keep the doors of your hotel room locked and store your valuables in secure areas like safes and lockboxes
  • carry contact info for the closest United States embassy or consulate in Brazil

Please note that local emergency service numbers are in Portuguese-language only: Dial 190 to call the police, 192 for an ambulance and 193 for the fire department.

Wear Sunscreen

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When out in the sun, everyone should wear sunscreen. Sunscreen protects you and your loved ones from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays, which can cause sunburn, premature aging of the skin and skin cancer.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends the following characteristics of sunscreen:

  • broad-spectrum protection (protection from UVA and UVB rays)
  • water resistant
  • Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 30 or more

 A few more things to keep in mind:

  • wear protective clothing, which not only protects you from the sun's damaging rays but also from mosquito bites
  • seek shade and hydrate
  • be careful to use sufficient amounts of sunscreen when around water and sand, which reflect the sun's rays and increase the risk of sunburn


AP Interactive: Rio's Polluted Waters. Associated Press. www.ap.org.

Brasil P, Pereira JP, Gabaglia CR, et al. Zika Virus Infection in Rio de Janeiro—Preliminary Report. www.nejm.org. March 4, 2016.

Jin J. Zika Virus Disease. JAMA 2016.315:2482.

Sunscreen FAQs. American Academy of Dermatology. www.aad.org.

Summer Olympics 2016 (Rio 2016). Centers for Disease Control. www.cdc.gov.

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