No vaccinations are required for travel to Argentina. However, the National Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommend vaccinations against hepatitis A and B and typhoid for all travelers. A yellow fever vaccine is also advisable if you're traveling to Iguazú. Each year there are cases of cholera in northern Argentina, mostly in the indigenous communities near the Bolivian border; your best protection is to avoid eating raw seafood.
Malaria is a threat only in low-lying rural areas near the borders of Bolivia and Paraguay. In 2009 outbreaks of dengue fever (another mosquito-borne disease) were widespread in northern Argentina, especially in Misiones Province (where Iguazú Falls is), but following comprehensive public health campaigns, there have been no more serious outbreaks. All the same, cases are regularly reported as far south as Buenos Aires. The best preventive measure against both dengue and malaria is to cover your arms and legs, use a good mosquito repellent containing DEET, and stay inside at dusk.
American trypanosomiasis, or Chagas' disease, is present in remote rural areas. The CDC recommends chloroquine as a preventive antimalarial for adults and infants in Argentina. To be effective, the weekly doses must start a week before you travel and continue four weeks after your return. There is no preventive medication for dengue or Chagas'. Children traveling to Argentina should have current inoculations against measles, mumps, rubella, and polio.
In most urban areas in Argentina, including Buenos Aires, people drink tap water and eat uncooked fruits and vegetables. However, if you're prone to tummy trouble, stick to bottled water. Take standard flu-avoidance precautions such as hand-washing and cough-covering, and consider contacting your doctor for a flu shot if you're traveling during the austral winter.
Apunamiento, or altitude sickness, which results in shortness of breath and headaches, may be a problem when you visit high altitudes in the Andes. To remedy any discomfort, walk slowly, eat lightly, and drink plenty of fluids (avoid alcohol). In northwestern Argentina, coca leaves are widely available (don't worry, it's totally legal). Follow the locals' example and chew a wad mixed with a dab of bicarbonate of soda on hiking trips: it does wonders for altitude problems. You can also order tea made from coca leaves (maté de coca), which has the same effect. If you experience an extended period of nausea, dehydration, dizziness, or severe headache or weakness while in a high-altitude area, seek medical attention. Dehydration, sunstroke, frostbite, and heatstroke are all dangers of outdoor recreation at high altitudes. Awareness and caution are the best preventive measures.
The sun is a significant health hazard, especially in southern Patagonia, where the ozone layer is said to be thinning. Stay out of the sun at midday and wear plenty of good-quality sunblock. A limited selection is available in most supermarkets and pharmacies, but if you use high SPF factors or have sensitive skin, bring your favorite brands with you. A hat and decent sunglasses are also essential.
National Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. 800/232–4636; www.cdc.gov/travel.
World Health Organization. www.who.int.
Argentina has free national health care that also provides foreigners with free outpatient care. Although the medical practitioners working at hospitales públicos (public hospitals) are first-rate, the institutions themselves are often underfunded: bed space and basic supplies are at a minimum. Except in emergencies you should consider leaving these resources for the people who really need them. World-class private clinics and hospitals are plentiful, and consultation and treatment fees are low compared with those in North America. Still, it's good to have some kind of medical insurance.
In nonemergency situations you'll be seen much quicker at a private clinic or hospital, and overnight stays are more comfortable. Many doctors at private hospitals speak at least some English. Note that only cities have hospitals; smaller towns may have a sala de primeros auxilios (first-aid post).
Medical Insurance and Assistance
Consider buying trip insurance with medical-only coverage. Neither Medicare nor some private insurers cover medical expenses anywhere outside of the United States. Medical-only policies typically reimburse you for medical care (excluding that related to preexisting conditions) and hospitalization abroad, and provide for evacuation. You still have to pay the bills and await reimbursement from the insurer, though.
Another option is to sign up with a medical-evacuation assistance company. Membership gets you doctor referrals, emergency evacuation or repatriation, 24-hour hotlines for medical consultation, and other assistance. International SOS and AirMed International provide evacuation services and medical referrals. MedjetAssist offers medical evacuation.
Medical Assistance Companies
AirMed International. www.airmed.com.
International Medical Group. 800/628–4664; www.imglobal.com.
International SOS. www.internationalsos.com.
Wallach & Company. 800/237–6615; 540/687–3166; www.wallach.com.
Towns and cities have a 24-hour pharmacy system: each night there's one farmacia de turno (on-duty pharmacy) for prescriptions and emergency supplies.
In Argentina, farmacias (pharmacies) carry painkillers, first-aid supplies, contraceptives, diarrhea treatments, and a range of other over-the-counter treatments, including some drugs that would require a prescription in the United States (many antibiotics, for example). Note that acetaminophen—or Tylenol—is known as paracetamol in Spanish. If you think you'll need to have prescriptions filled while you're in Argentina, be sure to have your doctor write down the generic name of the drug, not just the brand name.
Farmacity is a supermarket-style drugstore chain with branches all over Buenos Aires and other major cities, including Córdoba, Mendoza, and Salta; many of them are open 24 hours and offer a delivery service.
Farmacity. 11/4322–7777; www.farmacity.com.ar.