Eight diverse countries make up the isthmus linking Mexico to the northern tip of South America. Many travellers backpack via buses through multiple countries – visiting ancient Mayan ruins, beaches, rainforests, markets, volcanic lakes, or for cultural immersion learning Spanish, living with a local family, especially in Guatemala.
The following information provides some broad and general guidelines about health risks and recommendations for travel to Central America. This should not be taken as a substitute for a personal consultation with one of our travel health doctors, whose advice will be specific for you and your trip and may include issues not mentioned here.
Most Common Health Issues
Travellers Diarrhoea, Giardia, Dysentery and Respiratory Illness
Observe strict food and water safety precautions and observe good hand hygiene. Consider carrying a personal water filter. Take a well-stocked kit with guidelines for treatment and seek help for persistent / severe illness.
Mosquito borne viruses
In Central America mozzies transmit a number of viruses which have been on the increase due to global warming, changing environments and human travel. These include dengue fever, and in the past few years chikungunya and Zika. All of these viruses are preventable by taking precautions to avoid mosquito bites. Because of the risk of Zika virus causing birth defects, pregnant women should avoid travel to Central America and couples planning pregnancy should come and see us for specific and important advice.
No risk in the cities or highlands, patchy elsewhere through Central America. The pros and cons for preventative medication should be discussed with one of our doctors. Avoid mosquito bites from sunset to sunrise in risk areas. We have access to the most up to date malaria maps and the experience to help guide this decision making process. Any fever after travel to malaria areas requires assessment and an urgent blood test to exclude malaria, whether or not preventive medication has been taken.
Yellow Fever Vaccination Requirements and Recommendations
This serious but very rare disease is also contracted from mosquito bites. Panama (areas east of the canal and Panama City) is the only region of Central America where Yellow fever is a risk. Proof of vaccination may be required if arriving in Central American countries after visiting Panama or South America, to reduce the risk of international spread. If so, an official international certificate of yellow fever vaccination should be carried with your passport. Advice should be sought from a travel health specialist based on your trip itinerary as the requirements for proof of Yellow Fever vaccination is complex.
Animal bites and scratches
Rabies occurs. Consider pre-travel vaccination for prolonged/ remote trips, well before travel. Thoroughly flush/disinfect animal wounds and seek prompt medical care of bitten or scratched.
Cutaneous Larva Migrans
This annoying worm from dog faeces can penetrate your skin if walking barefoot on beaches, it migrates under the skin causing intense itching for about a month. Wear thongs and lie on a beach towel to prevent.
See Yellow Fever section above. As well as being up to date for routine childhood vaccines such as tetanus, measles and hepatitis B, the following vaccines are often recommended – influenza, hepatitis A, typhoid and rabies. Decisions regarding which are most appropriate depend on duration and nature of travel, itinerary, age and underlying medical conditions.