Looking after your health

If you are living in Brazil there are some health issues you should consider that are probably new to you. I have listed some ways of preventing some common diseases or maladies that I have encountered directly or indirectly in both Brazil and Argentina:

Water: Mineral water is ok, but not always trustworthy as we have seen in the news. In Latin America, some companies have been known to use regular tap water to sell as “spring water”. The safer way to assure your water is clean is to add two drops of bleach to each liter of tap water and store it in the fridge. Boiled water is also a possibility, but it tastes awful. The bleach tactic was actually advertised by the Argentinean government campaign against cholera.

Parasites: There is a wide range of parasites and nasty larvae in tropical countries that find ways of entering your body and causing some harm. Bicho do pé (see Chigoe flea), bicho geográfico (see Cutaneous larva migrans), for example, are common in the Northwestern region (Bahia, etc.). For prevention, try not to walk on the sand barefoot. Use sandals or flip-flops at all times, even in the beach. The Bicho Geográfico can be spotted because is creates lines (a bit like map routes) as it moves around under your skin. The Bicho do Pé usually enters your body through your feet, leaving a small black dot that usually itches and gets surrounded by pus. Removing these nasty larvae is quite simple. Do not allow people to poke at your feet as this can cause infection. Go to the pharmacy and buy Foldan, a very effective little cream. Apply to the entrance point of the larva twice a day. The larvae or parasite will eventually dry up and die. This cream is also effective for Berne (see Dermatobia hominis). For more remedies, see the links in brackets.

Chagas disease: Most people, even in Latin American countries, think this disease is only common in rural areas. It has recently been reported in urban areas also. Chagas disease can be transmitted in a number of ways (mainly through the insects feces, scratching the insect bite and allowing the faeces to enter the blood stream, blood transfusions, from mother to fetus and food contamination, also through feces). To avoid infection (see Chagas) in urban areas avoid caldo de cana (sugar cane juice) and açai (a small berry favored for its energizing qualities).

Other healthy habits: To avoid contamination of other parasites and bacteria in general, never eat undercooked pork, put all vegetables in the fridge directly from the supermarket bag, without washing. Once cold, wash under tap water with your hands, removing all grit and earth. Soaking in vinegar has proved ineffective in removing certain parasites. An option is to soak for 10 minutes in water with a few drops of bleach. Washing vegetables at room temperature allows any bacteria to penetrate the vegetable, and is therefore useless and even dangerous.

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