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Staying healthy during your Caribbean vacation.


The Caribbean is one of the most popular and loved destination of vacationers from all over the world. Being aware of the (slightly) increased health risks while travelling in the Caribbean –due to for example its tropical climate- helps you to minimize the risks of experiencing any health issues. I put together some tips and experiences that I have collected over time.  more...


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The Caribbean is one of the most popular and loved destination of vacationers from all over the world. Being aware of the (slightly) increased health risks while travelling in the Caribbean –due to for example its tropical climate- helps you to minimize the risks of experiencing any health issues. I put together some tips and experiences that I have collected over time.

Before visiting the Caribbean, you may want to check with your doctor about medications for vaccine-preventable diseases and other diseases you might be at risk for while at your destination. This will depend largely on factors such as your health and immunization history, areas of the country you will be visiting and planned activities. To have the most benefit, see a health-care provider at least 4–6 weeks before your trip to allow time for your vaccines to take effect.

While on vacation, insect bites, the consumption of non-purified water (including tap water) and excessive exposure to the sun are the most likely causes for a Caribbean traveler to run into some trouble. Dengue epidemics have occurred on many of the Caribbean islands where you find the Aedes aegypti, a mosquito that can transmit dengue. Most Caribbean countries like Cuba are very active and successful in combating the insects and there is plenty you can do to avoid being bitten. Using insect repellent with the ingredient DEET is a very effective way to keep insects away. Be careful not to spray insect repellant near your eyes, nose and mouth and keep the bottle out of the hands of children. Picaridin, another insect repellant that is available in 7% and 15% concentrations, needs more frequent application and there is less information available on how effective picaridin is at protecting against mosquitoes that transmit malaria. Flying-insect spray helps to clear rooms of mosquitoes. The product should contain a pyrethroid insecticide as it quickly kills flying insects, including mosquitoes. I personally am very cautious about the chemicals I spray on my body or into the air I breathe. Remember that what kills a bug generally isn’t that healthy for us humans either. Wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants and a hat outdoors is a great idea, especially when you notice that there are lots of insects buzzing around.

Diseases from food and water are the leading cause of illness in travelers. Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially before eating. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand gel (with at least 60% alcohol). Drink only bottled or boiled water, or carbonated (bubbly) drinks in cans or bottles. Avoid tap water, fountain drinks and ice cubes. If this is not possible, learn how to make water safer to drink using iodine tablets and portable water filters. Do not eat food purchased from street vendors and make sure food is fully cooked. Avoid dairy products, unless you know they have been pasteurized. Outbreaks of ciguatera poisoning, which result from eating toxin-containing reef fish, have occurred on many Caribbean islands. Although not deadly, this decease is an absolute nuisance to deal with and it will take at least six months before you are fully cured. If you are not 100% confident that your fish is caught out on the open sea or that the restaurant does not seem to uphold high hygiene/quality standards, you might want to consider to skip the fish. Diseases from food and water often cause vomiting and diarrhea. Make sure to bring diarrhea medicine with you so that you can treat mild cases yourself.

Sun block and sunglasses for protection from harmful effects of UV sunrays are also very important things to bring to the Caribbean. Forgetting to buy a bottle of sun block - SPF 30 or higher- could turn out to be a costly or painful mistake.

I know lots of animal lovers who care about the faith of stray animals in the Caribbean. It is important to keep in mind that direct contact with animals can spread diseases like rabies or cause serious other injury or illness. Prevent animal bites and scratches. Be sure you are up to date with your tetanus vaccination. Even animals that look like healthy pets can have rabies or other diseases. I know it is tough but it is not recommended to touch or feed any stray animals, including dogs and cats. Help children stay safe by supervising them carefully around all animals. If you are bitten or scratched, wash the wound well with soap and water and see a doctor right away. After your trip, be sure to tell your doctor or state health department if you were bitten or scratched during travel.

Avoiding injuries has everything to do with using your common sense. Driving in a foreign country is always more dangerous than at home, especially at night. Be responsible and remember that pedestrians are not at all protected in most Caribbean countries. You certainly will notice that fast traffic assumes the right of way wherever you go. To avoid infections such as HIV and viral hepatitis do not share needles for tattoos, body piercing, or injections. To reduce the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases always use latex condoms. To prevent fungal and parasitic infections, keep feet clean and dry, and do not go barefoot, especially on beaches where animals may have defecated.

When you use prescription medicines, make sure you have enough to last during your trip. Keep them in their original prescription bottles and always in your carry-on luggage. If your medication is not allowed in the country you will be visiting, ask your health-care provider to write a letter on office stationery stating the medication that has been prescribed for you. Declare these items for inspection at the checkpoint. Officers may need to open these items to conduct additional screening. Declared liquid medications and other liquids for disabilities and medical conditions must be kept separate from all other property submitted for x-ray screening.

If upon arrival you are not feeling well, go see your doctor and mention that you have recently travelled.

Travelling in the Caribbean is in general very safe. If you stay alert of your surroundings, watch what you put into your body and avoid unnecessary risks, you will have no problem to fully enjoy an unforgettable Caribbean vacation.

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