Tips & Resources

Practice Your Offence & Defence for the 2014 World Cup

By James Daw, Contributing Writer

(Last updated May 21, 2014)

Soccer fans flocking to the FIFA World Cup in Brazil this June and July will have their health and safety to consider. Experts warn of the risk of disease borne by insects, local food, residents, and other fans, as well as the dangers of street crime, vehicle collisions, and sun exposure.  

Emergency calls

Do not call 911 in Brazil.

  1. 190: Police
  2. 192: Ambulance
  3. 193: Fire

Source: Emergency Numbers in Brazil

“Nobody [who usually answers these calls] speaks anything other than Portuguese,” notes David Toole, a Canadian writer now living in Brazil. “LOL! Nothing is ever simple in Brazil. Maybe they will have more English capability for the World Cup.”

The kick-off: Even outside of their peak season, mosquitoes near some soccer venues could carry diseases. So consult with a travel health clinic four to six weeks before leaving home, and allow four to six weeks for routine and exotic vaccines to become effective.

The attackers: Mosquitoes could carry malaria near Manaus, a host city close to the Amazon River. They could carry yellow fever there and in Cuiaba, also in Brazil’s interior. When matches are held in Fortaleza, Natal, and Salvador, the dengue fever risk could be “close to its peak,” according to an Oxford University scientist in a widely cited Nature story last November. Soccer fans from 31 countries could add a further risk by possibly carrying the chikungunya virus, already noted on the Caribbean island of St. Martin, according to the World Health Organization.

The defence: Brazil no longer requires visitors to be inoculated for yellow fever but recommends the vaccine for those visiting areas (requires Adobe Reader) away from the coast. No vaccines exist to defend against chikungunya or dengue fever, which can be carried by the same mosquito species. A super insecticide called permethrin (scroll down to number 5 in the link) is claimed to work when sprayed onto clothes, even after washing. Other mosquito precautions include light and baggy clothing, repellent with DEET, screens on windows, and bed nets.

Danger zones: Fans should check the schedule for their teams before discussing vaccinations at a travel clinic, since some cities have a higher risk of mosquitoes. Manaus is scheduled to host a game between the US soccer team and Portugal. Other teams set to play there are England and Italy, Cameroon and Croatia, and Honduras and Switzerland. Cuiaba will play host to match-ups between Chile and Australia, Russia and South Korea, Nigeria and Bosnia/Herzegovina, plus Japan and Colombia. Teams scheduled to play in Fortaleza, Natal, Recife, and cities to the south are listed on the FIFA Brazil website.

Between matches: Some food and water in Brazil could be a source of hepatitis A, typhoid fever, and travellers’ diarrhea. Vaccinations can reduce the risk of these infections, along with rabies. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends taking this precaution in a special World Cup notice. One encouraging development is that Brazil has been commended for taking special precautions to reduce foodborne illness during the World Cup. Two scientists, Ana Carolina Ritter of Italy and Edwardo Cesar Tondo of Brazil, reported in March on the risk-based evaluation tool Brazil developed to arm its food-safety surveillance officers.

Soccer travel: Travel to games will present the typical risks. Road traffic is the leading cause of death for Americans visiting foreign countries, followed by homicide, drowning, disaster, drug use, and terrorism. Injuries cause 10 times more deaths than disease, according to the CDC. The Association for Safe International Road Travel will permit individuals to register and purchase an 11-page report on driving in Brazil for leisure for US$50. Crowded public transit vehicles and stations may attract pickpockets, so be sure to guard your money, debit and credit cards, identification, cameras, and other electronic devices carefully. It could be dangerous to hail a taxicab on the street. Instead, ask for a reference from your hotel or a reputable business, such as a well-established restaurant.

Unsportsmanlike behaviour: The government-sponsored website notes the following: “There is no nationwide [travel] advisory in effect for Brazil. However, you should exercise a high degree of caution due to high crime rates and regular incidents of gang-related and other violence.” As recently as 2011, 14 cities in Brazil ranked in the world’s top 50 for murder frequency (requires Adobe Reader). Soccer fans from wealthy nations who wear their team’s jersey could be magnets for thieves, kidnappers, and extortionists. So avoid moving about on your own, and ask your hotel about areas of cities to avoid.

Last defender: The CDC recommends that travellers buy travel health insurance that covers medical evacuation. It also suggests that visitors to Brazil take a travel health kit and prepare an information kit for someone staying behind. The information kit should include an itinerary, contact information, and copies of credit cards and passports.

Endline: Travellers would be wise to read the entire CDC notice, along with the one posted by the Government of Canada, learn a few key phrases in Portuguese, and take note of the emergency numbers to call for police, ambulance, and firefighters.