When I first moved to Costa Rica, it took my body awhile to get used to the tropical climate. Not only did I move to a place that’s considerably closer to the equator, but I had never been exposed to that intense level of heat before. To be honest, I’m still not quite used to it but luckily, I haven’t gotten sick that much in my two years here.
I’ve met many travelers in Costa Rica who were so paranoid that they brought their own utensils. I understand that there is this idea that tropical countries are full of deadly diseases that will kill you if you eat fresh vegetables but these are all huge common misconceptions.
That being said, there are a few things you do need to be aware of when you visit Costa Rica. I always encourage people to go beyond what their travel agent or what the news shows and do some of their own research.
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At the end is a list of shots you should consider getting when visiting Costa Rica.
***Zika isn’t a huge concern in Costa Rica but there have been a few cases. PLEASE use mosquito repellent and cover up!***
Diseases and Illnesses in Costa Rica
When I came to Central America for my first time, I was given chloroquine pills to take as antimalarial medication. I, like so many other visitors blindly believed my PCP and spent the dollars and time to get these pills. Not only are they huge and terrible to swallow but it turned out to be a waste of money!
Malaria is not rampant in Costa Rica despite what the media may tell you. Costa Rica has done a great job in the past few years in eliminating malaria, which is a disease transmitted by the insects of the genus Plasmodium. Infected individuals are at high risk of death.
Malaria used to be fairly bad in Costa Rica with over 44,000 cases in the 1990’s but in 2012, there were only 8 reported cases. There are a couple hot spots in the country such as the Panama/Costa Rica border and Matina so if you are going to be in those areas for a long period of time, it would be in your favor to take the pills and consult your PCP.
The best thing to do for prevention is using lots of bug spray that works for you. Not sure which ones to bring? We have a list of mosquito repellent products we tested ourselves to see which ones we liked, which ones worked and which ones didn’t.
This disease you do need to be aware of. Dengue fever is what the news should be talking about more in terms of diseases transmitted by mosquitoes in Costa Rica. First, you can catch dengue multiple times and survive. Someone had told me that if you catch dengue more than once, you won’t live the second time. This isn’t true.
There are 4 different strains of dengue but none of them provide cross-immunity to one another so if you catch one strain, you can still catch the other three. This disease is carried and transmitted by the Aedes mosquito.
Infected individuals are not at risk of death unless infected with the hemorrhagic fever. Otherwise, symptoms are like a really bad flu with vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, fever, chills, loss of appetite and rash. Sometimes people catch dengue without knowing it, passing it off as a bad cold or flu.
There is no vaccination or cure for dengue so all you can do is wait it out, drink lots of fluids and go to the doctor if it gets worse or you don’t feel better in a matter of days.
Dengue fever in Costa Rica has broken an all time high with over 38,000 cases last year. Mortality rates are low at .003% but we all need to be careful. The government has been working hard to eradicate mosquito breeding grounds (stagnant water) and educating the public about protection.
How to prevent getting dengue fever? Using mosquito repellent and avoid being near swamps or stagnant water.
Stomach Flu and Diarrhea
I’ve caught both of these a few times. I don’t have a particularly strong stomach and it gets easily irritated when I drink tap water. I never even drank it in the States! So in my personal case, I avoid drinking tap when I can and buy bottled water. You should too if your stomach is sensitive.
When I got the stomach flu, it hit me quite hard. I think it is because it’s much hotter here so I’m losing fluids more rapidly. Sometimes it was so terrible I had to go see the doctor and other times I was able to just drink lots of fluids, rest and wait it out.
They have diarrhea medicine, electrolyte drinks and powders and nausea meds at the pharmacy which helped me a ton when I got sick. If you come down with either of these, make sure to drink lots of water and take it easy. Saltine crackers and electrolyte drinks were my best friends during those times. If you’re wondering if the tap water is safe to drink in Costa Rica, it is. Read more about tap water here.
There are five strains of hepatitis. Hepatitis A and E are transmitted similarly, through contaminated food and water. Unless you find yourself out in the middle of the jungle (or really unlucky), it’s unlikely to catch either of these through the food and water here in Costa Rica. It is always a possibility so it is important to get the vaccination.
Like I mentioned before, I’d stick to bottled water if you have a sensitive stomach otherwise the tap water here is safe to drink.
Hepatitis B, C and D are spread through contact with infected blood and body fluids so protect yourself if you find yourself in a situation where any of this type of contact may occur which includes any sexual contact or piercings.
Unless you’re going to be in close vicinity to livestock, wildlife or remote areas, you do not need to worry about rabies. Yes, there are animals with rabies here but if you don’t stick your head into a bat cave, you’ll be fine.
Typhoid fever is caused by a bacteria that is contracted through contaminated food and water meaning it has come in contact with feces of an infected individual.
Typhoid has severe symptoms that can lead to hemorrhaging, encephalitis, and rashes. Be very careful to always wash your hands, especially if you are in a rural area and get rid of the poor sanitary habits. This is crucial to preventing typhoid fever.
Shots Needed for Costa Rica
This part is important. I believe in vaccinations (I know some people don’t but I don’t want to get into that) and there are some very important ones if you’re traveling abroad.
You should be up to date with all the routine vaccinations such as MMR, chickenpox, polio and diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis. A flu shot isn’t a bad idea either.
For Costa Rica, these are the CDC’s recommended vaccinations:
- Hepatitis A and B
- Typhoid fever
- Rabies (only for those working with wildlife or in places that put them more at risk for animal bites)
You do NOT need a yellow fever vaccination to enter Costa Rica unless you are traveling from South America. They will stop and quarantine you at the airport if you do not have proof of this vaccination.
Check the Costa Rica Ministerio de Salud’s website for statistics and more important health information.
More posts about staying healthy in Costa Rica