I’ve got bad news for you: It doesn’t matter how healthy you are or what precautions you take – you’re probably going to get sick in Brazil.
Visiting a different country will always expose you to new and interesting bacteria your body has no immunity to. Rio’s temperate and volatile sub-tropical climate is an adversary at the best of times, and lets face it: a jiu-jitsu mat is a breeding ground for bugs no matter how clean it is kept.
The truth is, rolling around in close contact with sweaty dudes is asking for trouble. Your gym might as well be a giant Petri dish, and every time you train it’s like you’ve decided to jump in and have a swim around.
The most common ailments suffered by visitors are:
– Stomach bugs
– Skin conditions
– Dengue fever
So, now we’ve cleared up the fact you almost certainly will catch something (be it big or small), lets look at the most common ailments experienced by travellers training BJJ in Rio.
Your plan to become a bronzed Adonis within three days of arriving in Brazil is only let down by your pasty Northern Hemisphere skin. For those of you with less melatonin, sunburn is a real problem that can range from “irritating” to “get me to a hospital, stat!” on the inconvenience scale.
Apart from looking really, really stupid (for cariocas there are few things considered more uncool) having sunburn can actually mess up your training. Rolling (especially in a gi) will range from uncomfortable to unbearable, and broken skin makes you more susceptible to infections.
How to avoid it:
Stock up on your sun cream, and do it before you come as on average its more expensive here.
The weather in Rio is as unpredictable as a crazy stripper ex-girlfriend. Some days you’ll enjoy blazing sun and temperatures that would make a camel sweat. Other days – mostly during the Southern Hemisphere winter – it can be grey, wet and chilly.
The fluctuating temperature and sudden showers catch a lot of people out. You leave the house in a pair of shorts and flip flops only to wish you’d brought one of those plastic all-in-one things they give tourists on Splash Mountain.
And then there is the humidity and its evil partner in crime, air-conditioning, a villainous tag-team who’s speciality is fucking up your sinuses. Even the locals suffer from this, and you’ll see decongestant tabs sold everywhere.
How to avoid it:
Stay warm and dry and carry an umbrella or a light sweater during the rainy season. Other than that, it’s luck of the draw.
Traveller’s belly is likely to strike wherever you visit, and almost everybody gets it at least once while in Rio. Usually, it’s just your body reacting to some food it’s not used. Straight up food poisoning is rare, but if you’re a fan of street food or hole-in-the-wall establishments then be prepared for some impromptu weight cutting.
How to avoid it:
Practice good food hygiene, eat at decent restaurants instead of dirty cafes, and don’t go crazy and completely change your diet when you arrive. Stock up on anti-diarrhoea medicine before you travel, you’ll probably need it.
Common skin complaints found in BJJ include ringworm, staph, cellulitis and non-specific infections. You’re just as likely to catch these anywhere in the world, and they are by no means confined to people training BJJ in Rio. If anything, they’re even less common than in some places. Though there are always hour stories of some guy who’s leg swelled up or face dropped off, on the whole incidences of skin conditions are nowhere near what you’d expect.
How to avoid it:
Wash yourself and your training clothes immediately after every training session, don’t wear dirty gis, and cover any open wounds, cuts, scratches or grazes to avoid nasty bacteria finding it’s way into your bloodstream. Topical creams are good at treating most skin complaints but the best defence is a good offence. Stay clean, stay out of trouble.
By far the most serious on the list, dengue is a disease transmitted by mosquitos. All it takes is for one hungry little sucker to take a bite out of you and you could quite easily end up in a hospital bed.
Dengue starts off feeling much like the flu. You become extremely tired, and possibly suffer from an upset stomach. Rashes may appear on your body, and pretty soon you’re likely to be running a high fever. Left untreated, the high fever and dehydration can put you in a potentially fatal state of shock. Don’t try to let it run it’s course – seek medical treatment ASAP if you suspect you’ve got it.
As for treatment, the doctors won’t give you much other than some pain killers and strict instructions to stay hydrated. They will take tests, as some forms of dengue can led to internal bleeding.
The good thing about Dengue is that isn’t contagious in the traditional sense. You can only catch it if you’ve been bitten by an infected mosquito.
How to avoid getting it:
Repellent! A mosquito net can be useful, as can burning citronella incense, but the type of mosquito that carries the disease is most commonly found during the day.
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