Travelers to Central America need to be concerned about food- and mosquito-borne infections. While most infections are not life-threatening, they can certainly ruin your trip. Besides getting the proper vaccinations, it's important that you pack a good insect repellent and exercise great care in what you eat and drink.
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Before You Go
Medical facilities in Belize are not of the highest standard – make sure to check your travel insurance covers major medical emergencies, hospitalization and evacuation.
Since many vaccines don't produce immunity until at least two weeks after they're given, visit a physician four to eight weeks before departure. Note that some of the recommended vaccines are not approved for use by children and pregnant women; check with your physician.
one dose before trip with booster six to 12 months later
soreness at injection site; headaches; body aches
long-term travelers in close contact with the local population
three doses over a six-month period
soreness at injection site; low-grade fever
travelers who've never had chickenpox
two doses one month apart
fever; mild case of chickenpox
travelers born after 1956 who've had only one measles vaccination
fever; rash; joint pain; allergic reaction
all travelers who haven't had a booster within 10 years
one dose lasts 10 years
soreness at injection site
four capsules by mouth, one taken every other day
abdominal pain; nausea; rash
required for travelers arriving from yellow-fever-infected areas in Africa or South America
one dose lasts 10 years
headaches; body aches; severe reactions are rare
It is a very good idea to carry a medical and first-aid kit with you, in case of minor illness or injury:
- antidiarrheal drugs (eg loperamide)
- acetaminophen/paracetamol (Tylenol) or aspirin
- anti-inflammatory drugs (eg ibuprofen)
- antihistamines (for hay fever and allergic reactions)
- antibacterial ointment (eg Bactroban) for cuts and abrasions
- steroid cream or cortisone (for poison ivy and other allergic rashes)
- bandages, gauze, gauze rolls
- adhesive or paper tape
- scissors, safety pins and tweezers
- insect repellent containing DEET for the skin
- insect spray containing permethrin for clothing, tents and bed nets
- oral rehydration salts
- iodine tablets (for water purification)
- syringes and sterile needles
Bring medications in their original containers, clearly labeled. A signed, dated letter from your physician describing all medical conditions and medications, including generic names, is also a good idea. If carrying syringes or needles, be sure to have a physician's letter documenting their medical necessity.
Availability & Cost of Health Care
Not surprisingly for a small, developing country, medical care in Belize is not of the highest standard. It is also fairly expensive compared to neighboring countries – expect to pay around US$70 for a visit to a private doctor and around US$500 per night for hospitalization in a private clinic.
The cheapest health care can be found at the network of public hospitals and clinics throughout the country, but they are often overcrowded and sometimes have issues with supplies and equipment. Many visitors and expats with insurance prefer to go directly to private clinics, the best of which are located in Belize City.
Another option, popular with expats in Belize, is to head across the border to Chetumal in Mexico where quality health care is far cheaper.
For emergency situations it's recommended to have comprehensive insurance that covers evacuation to medical facilities outside Belize.
In major urban areas tap water in Belize is considered safe to drink. Outside larger cities and towns, hotels may use wells or rainwater collection tanks in which case water should be boiled or treated.
Many hotels will provide drinking water for guests.
The major annoyance that almost all travelers are likely to encounter is biting insects, with sand flies (no-see-ums) being a real problem on some islands and mosquitoes pretty much everywhere. Bring quality repellent from home.
To prevent diarrhea, avoid tap water unless it's been boiled, filtered or chemically disinfected (with iodine tablets); only eat fresh fruit or vegetables if cooked or peeled; be wary of dairy products that might contain unpasteurized milk; and be highly selective when eating food from street vendors.
If you develop diarrhea, be sure to drink plenty of fluids, preferably an oral rehydration solution containing salt and sugar. A few loose stools don't require treatment, but if you start having more than four or five stools a day, you should start taking an antibiotic (usually a quinolone drug) and an antidiarrheal agent (such as loperamide). If diarrhea is bloody, persists for more than 72 hours or is accompanied by fever, shaking chills or severe abdominal pain, you should seek medical attention.
Mosquitoes & Ticks
To avoid mosquito and tick bites, wear long sleeves, long pants, hats and shoes or boots (rather than sandals). Use insect repellent that contains DEET, which should be applied to exposed skin and clothing, but not to eyes, mouth, cuts, wounds or irritated skin. In general, adults and children over 12 years should use preparations containing 25% to 35% DEET, which last about six hours. Children between two and 12 years of age should use preparations containing no more than 10% DEET, which will usually last about three hours. Products containing lower concentrations of DEET are as effective, but for shorter periods of time.
For additional protection, you can apply permethrin to clothing, shoes, tents and bed nets. Permethrin treatments are safe and remain effective for at least two weeks, even when items are laundered. Permethrin should not be applied directly to skin.