What’s the Scoop on Malaria on the Pacific?

February 16, 2007

I will be bringing guests to Costa Rica in March. Travel locations include the central Pacific coastline from Jacó to Manuel Antonio. Any updates or concerns about mosquitoes or malaria? I’ve always used insect repellant with success. I have never taken any preventive medicine for malaria. Any recommendations?

Michael Hughes

Nashville, Tennessee, USA

Good question!

Nothing will ruin a trip to tropical paradise like a bad case of malaria.

Costa Rica is, of course, a tropical country. And while it lacks some of the infrastructure – and discipline – required to fully control mosquito-borne illnesses, outbreaks of malaria are relatively infrequent and usually confined to relatively small areas.

Teresa Solano, director of the epidemiology department of the Public Health Ministry, told The Tico Times the first 47 weeks of 2006 saw 2,609 cases of malaria in the country, of which 2,523, or 96%, occurred along the Caribbean coast.

Of those, the vast majority, more than 80%, took place in a single, very confined area: the canton of Matina, along the northcentral Caribbean coast, which, according to Solano, is largely banana plantationcountry and sees very little tourism each year.

Along the Pacific coast, she said malaria is almost non-existent, with scattered cases here and there but almost none in the vicinity of Jacó and Manuel Antonio.

So the short answer, from the director of epidemiology herself: There is a slight risk, as in any tropical country – but chances are, you’ll be just fine.

She does strongly recommend wearing bug spray at all times, even mid-day, as mosquitoes carrying dengue fever, another tropical illness (more than 10,000 cases were reported last year, by comparison), are significantly more common in the country, particularly along the Pacific lowlands.

Dengue is usually not as severe an illness as malaria – nor is it chronic – but expect to spend at least a couple of weeks in bed if you get it. There is no immunization against it, so bug spray is your best defense.

She also added that preventive malaria medications are very effective – most of them come in pill form – and if they give you peace of mind while on vacation, by all means, take them. Just consult with your personal physician first.

For more information on illnesses and travel to Costa Rica or any other foreign country, see www.cdc.gov/travel.

 

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