Staying Healthy in Costa Rica
From affordable health care to a diet rich in fresh produce, Costa Rica encourages a hearty lifestyle. When you move abroad it’s important to educate yourself on how to keep healthy in your new home, weighing in factors like tropical illnesses, local venomous species and potable water. Here’s our list of recommendations for new arrivals and seasoned expats alike:
Dengue is a tropical virus with flu-like symptoms that include rash, fever, headache and severe joint pain. There are four types of dengue virus, as well as the more severe dengue hemorrhagic fever; all are transmitted by one species of mosquito. Periodic outbreaks occur predominantly during the rainy season (May-November), and are most prevalent in urban areas, especially along Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. There is no vaccine against dengue, but you can protect yourself by eliminating all standing water – mosquito breeding grounds – around your home. Be sure to use strong insect repellent when heading into the rainforest or lowland areas where dengue is common.
There are a few household creatures you’ll want to look out for in Costa Rica; though none are deadly, each can deliver a painful sting or bite. Scorpions of all sizes are found throughout the country, and often come indoors during heavy rains. Stings can be painful, similar to a bad wasp sting, and symptoms include inflammation and numbness. As an added precaution, shake out your clothes and shoes before putting them on to avoid any unpleasant surprises. Tarantulas also seek refuge from moist conditions; while an unwelcome site, these arachnids are not dangerous to humans and typically only bite when threatened. Ants are by far the most familiar household pest, so be forewarned many species bite, causing a minor burning sensation or pain.
Costa Rica’s water is safe to drink throughout most of the country, but in very rural areas, especially remote parks and reserves, you may see signs declaring “Agua no potable,” or “Water not potable.” To avoid contracting water-born illnesses, always carry a water bottle with you on hikes or day trips. If you plan on long camping or hiking trips, stock up on water purification tablets.
Everyone loves to feel the sun on their skin, but keep in mind that Costa Rica is located less than 10 degrees north of the equator. The sun’s rays are likely stronger here than in your home country, so take care to protect yourself from harmful UV rays. Use SPF 15+ everyday, and when you head to the beach or spend the day outside, upgrade to at least SPF 30. Grab a hat for further protection, and don’t forget to reapply the sunblock every few hours.
Of Costa Rica’s 135 snake species, only 17 are venomous, belonging to the viper or coral snake families. Coral snakes are easy to spot – look for the telltale red-yellow adjacent rings and remember, “red and yellow kills a fellow, but red and black’s a friend of Jack.” Vipers are more difficult to identify, but keep in mind that all venomous snakes in Costa Rica have triangular heads. The fer-de-lance is the most notorious of Costa Rica’s venomous snakes, due to its aggressive nature and widespread habitat. In the event of a snakebite, head to the nearest hospital or clinic for a dose of anti-venom. Note that snakebites are somewhat rare; if hiking in forested areas, always wear closed-toed shoes and look carefully before touching branches.