Common Diseases in Colombia

As a country with a tropical climate, Colombia is susceptible to all the illnesses and dangers that go along with such a climate. Mosquitoes abound, the heat and great heights cause rashes and altitude sickness and contaminated water can lead to many different illnesses. Luckily, Colombia has some of the best medical treatment in all of South America, and many of these diseases are on the decline. Still, the following illnesses are some of the most prevalent and serious threats presently facing the country:

  1. Zika virus
    Like all the diseases on this list, Zika virus is primarily spread through mosquito bites, though it can also be passed through sex. Zika currently poses the greatest threat to pregnant women; infection during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects. Pregnant women are therefore advised not to travel where mosquitoes are most abundant, which is anywhere below an elevation of 6,500 feet (which, unfortunately, comprises most of Colombia). Zika is also tricky to detect, as most people with the virus do not show symptoms. As of June 2017, there have been 1,342 reported cases of Zika in Colombia, a 60 fold drop from the previous year.
  2. Malaria
    Of the most common diseases in Colombia, malaria may also be one of the most serious and potentially deadly, and is, once again, spread mainly by mosquitoes. The disease occurs year-round, and is present everywhere below 5,577 feet. Travelers are advised to take preventative prescription medication, particularly if they venture into rural areas, where the risk is higher. Symptoms of malaria, unlike Zika, are fairly obvious, including fever, chills, nausea and vomiting. In 2016, 83,356 cases of malaria were reported in Colombia.
  3. Dengue fever
    Another one of the most common diseases in Colombia, is contracted through contact with mosquitoes, most commonly during the day and often indoors. While most people only experience a rash, fever and muscle pain for about a week, dengue fever can be life-threatening for some. So far, 2017 has seen 14,152 cases of dengue, a 78 percent reduction from the previous year.
  4. Chikungunya
    This disease is fairly new to Colombia, having first arrived in 2014. Yet another mosquito-borne illness, chikungunya is most common in lowland population centers. Its symptoms are similar to that of dengue fever, but it is not, as of yet, known to be fatal. In 2017, a total of 619 chikungunya cases were reported, a whopping 96 percent less than the previous year.

As is evident, a large number of the most common diseases in Colombia are spread through mosquito bites, so it is crucial to the health of those in Colombia that preventative measures are taken. Most, though not all, of the above diseases have vaccines that protect against them, which is good news for Colombians who live in cities with access to medical care. Rural areas, however, are still lacking in healthcare facilities. Other preventative options include mosquito nets, which are widely used, and mosquito-repelling sprays, though neither of these present a completely foolproof solution. It will be important in the coming years, particularly as the Zika virus continues to spread throughout South America, to ensure that healthcare is available to all who need it.

Audrey Palzkill

Photo: Flickr