Travellers to Central America who pay some attention to hygiene and skincare usually don’t run into health problems. However, we would like you to pay attention to the following health advice.
Sunshine and heat: Sunburn is a frequent cause for health problems. Sunburn and sun/heat strokes are easier caught than you may think. You should therefore avoid the sun during the hottest hours of the day, always wear a hat and good sunglasses when you are walking, and use a good suntan lotion when sunbathing. The latter can best be brought along from home, where the choice of product is much larger and prices are lower. At high temperatures the body’s need for water increases very rapidly, as does its need for salt. Make sure you drink enough when the heat is extreme and you will simply have to take it very easy during the hottest hours of the day. Make it a habit to treat wounds, however small, with something like iodine. Infections can occur and spread rapidly in the tropics, so take as much care as possible with scratches and insect bites.
Diarrhoea: Next to sunburn, the most common health problem is diarrhoea. Travellers are often hit by it after they have been on holiday for only a few days. In most cases, it is an utterly innocuous phenomenon caused by the change of diet, the heat or harmless bacteria, against which the body will soon develop its defences. The main risk is dehydration, especially in children. It occurs when the body loses more fluid, salt and sugars than it receives. The result is a feeling of listlessness and weakness. It can be prevented by drinking a solution of water and ORS. It is sold in bags at the pharmacies and contains all the minerals and sugars that are evacuated with diarrhoea. Instead of this solution you can also take noncarbonated soft drinks or heavily salted broth. For many people, cola has a constipating effect in the first stages of diarrhoea. When the diarrhoea is accompanied by high fever, bloody defecation or strong qualms, it is sensible to consult a physician. When the diarrhoea lasts for more than a few days without the above-mentioned symptoms or when you have to travel, you may take Imodium or Diacure a couple of times. It is an opium-like preparation that stops the bowels completely for a number of hours.
Insect bites: Mosquitoes are hard to avoid in Central-America. However, the following advice may help reduce the likelihood of being bitten. Malaria-carrying mosquitoes tend to bite after sunset and before sunrise. In the evening, wear long trousers and a long-sleeved roll neck T-shirt that covers well. DEET or other preventive remedies are effective, but do not expect miracles.
Prickly heat: Prickly heat is an inflammation of the pores caused by excessive perspiration. It is common and innocent, but very annoying. The skin grows red and irritated in places. Places where skin touches skin, such as armpits and thighs, are particularly susceptible. The symptoms will decrease when you take a cold shower – without using soap – a few times a day and dry yourself off well. Talcum powder on the affected spots may also help. When it is hot and damp, do not sleep under a sheet but wear a cotton T-shirt. If it troubles you very much, the best thing to do is take an air-conditioned room for a couple of nights.
Travellers’ health kit: A health kit for the tropics should contain adhesive bandages, bandages, cotton wool, scissors, thermometer, iodine, painkillers, malaria tablets, O.R.S.-packages (Oral Rehydration Solution), loperamide (against diarrhoea), sunscreen, pair of tweezers, insect-repellents such as DEET and a soothing ointment for persistent itching. If you are on medication, make sure you have a precise description available in English (no brand name, but composition and doses are important). Bring along a double quantity for the duration of travel and keep it separated from the other luggage.
Medical passport: If you are on prescription medicine, bring an extra supply and keep it separated. This way you will always have a spare stock. Ask your pharmacy to draw up a medical passport for you. This includes names of the substances and the exact composition of the medication that you use. Keep this document and your medication in your hand luggage. If you have a chronic illness, ask your GP for a written explanation of your disease and its treatment (in English).
Vaccinations: Please click on the following link for information regarding vaccinations and malaria requirements. Moreover, your needs depend on whether you have had previous vaccinations, whether you are allergic to certain medicine, if you are pregnant, your age, and so on. ALWAYS contact your GP or some other healthcare authority for advice. The complete vaccination package includes DTP, hepatitis A, and malaria. There are no compulsory vaccinations, except for those who have been to regions with yellow fever or cholera within two weeks before arrival in Costa Rica.
Some additional recommendations for an enjoyable stay: Allow your body and mind some time to adapt to the new time zone and location. Avoid stress; do not plan to do too much at once. At least take it easy on the first day. It is a good habit to get up early; in hot climates the morning temperature is often the most agreeable. Besides, the people in the countries you visit are also used to rising early. When you adapt to their rhythm you will make the most of your trip. When you are well rested you are best able to deal with all the new impressions and will have the energy to undertake more activities.