Altitude Sickness and Other Diseases

Altitude Sickness and Other Diseases

Ecuador is home to some of the highest volcanoes and mountain peaks in the world. Quito, Ecuador’s capital, has an altitude of around 9,000 feet, (3,000m). Someone flying to Quito from sea level experiences an elevation change of nearly two miles in a matter of  hours. Abrupt changes in elevation such as this sometimes have ill effects on travelers.

Altitude sickness usually manifests itself in insomnia, headaches, and/or nausea. To prevent altitude sickness, or to at least stave off some of its effects, ascend gradually to provide your body with time to adjust to the change. Obviously, if you are flying into Quito this will be impossible. In the event that you do experience symptoms of altitude sickness, in most cases, they can be remedied by drinking lots of water, getting lots of rest, and taking aspirin. If you are more than a little fatigued or if you experience mild headaches, taking DIAMOX is an option. DIAMOX is a drug that increases oxygen profusion. You can buy DIAMOX, or its equivalent, in pharmacies in most major cities in the highlands of Ecuador.

If you experience severe headaches or respiratory problems (including acute shortness of breath) consult a doctor immediately. If you are in the mountains far away from a doctor, go down to a lower altitude immediately. 

It’s a good idea to spend several days at altitude before climbing high peaks.

One final note with respect to altitude, use sunblock. You may feel cool while high in the Andes, but because of the altitude – you are much closer to the sun – the risk of sunburn is greater. Use a sunblock level rated at least 15 SPF.

Other Diseases

As with the more common diseases we have discussed, following the reasonable precautions we have suggested will help protect you from these less common health risks. However, though risk for these may be small, it is our duty to make you aware of these diseases. As we have said before, knowledge is the best weapon against illness. Cholera and smallpox are very rare in Ecuador, and vaccinations against the two diseases are not required to visit the country. Both diseases are transmitted primarily through contaminated food and water, so be sensible about what you put in your body.

In addition to Malaria and Yellow Fever, Dengue, Filariasis, Leishmaniasis, Onchocerciasis, and American Trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease) are other diseases carried by insects in South America. You should protect yourself against insect bites to prevent these diseases. Precautions against diseases transmitted by person-to-person contact, such as Hepatitis B, and sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, should be taken no matter where you are. Health care workers volunteering or working in Ecuador or elsewhere in South America should get immunized against Hepatitis B.

Practice safe sex to help protect yourself against sexually transmitted diseases. Other vaccinations, such as the Meningitis and Rabies vaccinations, may be considered in the event of epidemics. Consult the CDC website or U.S. Department of State before traveling to learn about outbreaks of specific diseases, and check the CDC website and confer with your doctor for more information about these diseases.

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