Travelers to Mexico need to guard chiefly against food- and mosquito-borne diseases. Besides getting the proper vaccinations, carry a good insect repellent and exercise care in what you eat and drink. Medical care in Mexico is generally of a high standard, particularly in private hospitals in big cities.
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Before You Go
You should have travel insurance that covers the cost of an emergency flight home, should you develop a life-threatening condition. You may prefer a policy that pays doctors or hospitals directly rather than you having to pay on the spot and claim later. If you have to claim later, ensure that you keep all documentation. Check that the policy covers ambulances.
Make sure all routine vaccinations are up to date and check whether all vaccines are suitable for children and pregnant women. See the website of Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel) for more details. There are no required vaccinations for entering Mexico, but the following are recommended:
- Diphtheria Travelers visiting rural areas
- Hepatitis A All travelers (except children under one year of age)
- Hepatitis B Long-term travelers and trekkers
- Rabies Trekkers and travelers who may come in contact with animals
- Tetanus All travelers
- Tuberculosis Travelers visiting rural areas
- Typhoid All travelers
Mexico requires proof of a yellow fever vaccination if you're arriving from a country with risk of yellow fever.
Many medicines can be obtained over the counter in Mexico, but it's best to bring the following with you:
- Prescription medication
- Copies of your medical prescriptions (essential if you're bringing psychotropic drugs)
- Altitude sickness medication
- Suture/syringe kit if spending time in remote areas
- First aid kit
- Water purification tablets for travel in remote areas
- Insect repellent that contains at least 50% DEET
Availability & Cost of Healthcare
Private hospitals in urban areas generally provide better care than public ones and have the latest medical equipment. The best are in Mexico City and Guadalajara and many doctors speak English. Note that some private hospitals do not accept international travel insurance and you have to pay for your treatment upon being discharged.
Altitude Sickness May develop in travelers who ascend rapidly to altitudes greater than 2500m. Symptoms may include headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, malaise, insomnia and loss of appetite. Severe cases can lead to death. To lessen the chance of altitude sickness, ascend gradually to higher altitudes, avoid overexertion, eat light meals and avoid alcohol. People showing any symptoms of altitude sickness should not ascend higher until the symptoms have cleared. If the symptoms become worse, or if someone shows signs of fluid in the lungs (high-altitude pulmonary edema) or swelling of the brain (high-altitude cerebral edema), descend immediately to a lower altitude. Descent of 500m to 1000m is generally adequate except in cases of cerebral edema.
Mosquito Bites Wear long sleeves, long pants, hats and shoes. Use a good insect repellent, preferably one containing at least 50% DEET, but don’t use DEET-containing compounds on children under the age of two. If sleeping outdoors or in accommodations without bug netting, use a bed net, ideally treated with permethrin.
Snake & Scorpion Bites In the event of a venomous snake bite or scorpion bite, keep the bitten area immobilized and move the victim immediately to the nearest medical facility. For scorpion stings, immediately apply ice or cold packs.
Sun Stay out of the midday sun, wear sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat and apply sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. Drink plenty of fluids and avoid strenuous exercise when the temperature is high.
Infectious Diseases & Parasitic Infections
Chikungunya Viral disease transmitted by infected aedes mosquitoes, causing fever and severe joint pain. Growing number of cases reported, mostly in Guerrero, Oaxaca, Chiapas and Michoacán, with isolated cases in 12 other states. There is no vaccine or treatment, but it's very rarely fatal and you may only contract it once.
Cutaneous leishmaniasis Lesions caused by sandfly bites in coastal and southern Mexico.
Dengue Fever Viral infection transmitted by aedes mosquitoes, which usually bite during the day. Usually causes flu-like symptoms. No vaccine or treatment except analgesics.
Malaria Transmitted by mosquito bites, usually between dusk and dawn. The main symptom is high spiking fevers. Present in Campeche, Chiapas, Chihuahua, Nayarit, and Sinaloa. Rare cases in Durango, Jalisco, Oaxaca, Sonora, Tabasco and Quintana Roo. Consult your doctor about the best antimalarial treatment. Protecting yourself against mosquito bites is just as important as taking malaria pills.
Rickettsial Disease Tick-borne diseases include Rocky Mountain spotted fever (potentially fatal unless treated promptly with antibiotics), common in Northern Mexico, and flea-borne typhus (similar symptoms to dengue fever). Take precautions against flea and tick bites.
Zika Viral disease transmitted by infected aedes mosquitoes. It has spread across the entire country since 2015 but the majority of cases are reported in southern Mexico. Symptoms such as rash, fever and joint pain can be treated, but there's no vaccine. Infections in adults have been linked to Guillain–Barré syndrome. Pregnant women are advised against travel to Mexico as zika increases the risk of brain malformations in babies.
Tap water in Mexico is mostly not safe to drink. Purified water in plastic bottles is sold everywhere and is also available from large dispensers in some accommodations. The most effective means of water purification is vigorous boiling for one minute (three minutes at altitudes over 2000m). Another option is a SteriPen (www.steripen.com), which kills 99.9% of bacteria and viruses with ultraviolet light. Pregnant women and those with a history of thyroid disease should not drink iodinated water.
Pharmacies are easy to come by in cities and towns of all sizes, with numerous medications sold over the counter. Large cities, such as Mexico City, Monterrey and Guadalajara have private hospitals with English-speaking doctors as well as more basic state hospitals. In cities elsewhere, hospitals offer emergency services, while in rural Mexico, healthcare tends to be basic.