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Before You Go
No special vaccines are required or recommended for travel to or around the USA. All travelers should be up-to-date on routine immunizations.
The USA offers some of the best-quality health care in the world, but it can be prohibitively expensive. International travelers should check if their regular policy covers them in the US; if it doesn’t, having travel insurance to cover any sort of medical event is absolutely essential.
Availability & Cost of Health Care
In general, if you have a medical emergency, your best bet is to go to the nearest hospital's emergency room or an urgent-care clinic. If the problem isn’t urgent, you can call a nearby hospital and ask for a referral to a local physician, which should usually be cheaper than a trip to the emergency room. (Independent, for-profit urgent-care centers can be convenient, but may perform large numbers of expensive tests, even for minor illnesses.)
If you’re heading to more remote areas of the state, it pays to be aware of the closest emergency medical services. If heading into backcountry areas, stop by the local ranger station or visitors center for information.
Colorado has great tap water – you can drink out of the tap pretty much anywhere in the state (some people may choose to drink bottled water at places using a well). When camping, you will need to boil or purify water.
Colorado has an extraordinary range of climate and terrain, from the freezing heights of the Rockies to the searing midsummer heat of the desert tablelands. Infectious diseases will not be a significant concern for most travelers, who are unlikely to experience anything worse than a little diarrhea, sunburn or a mild respiratory infection.
High altitude is the most serious health risk. Stay hydrated, take it easy, and allow a few days to acclimatize before going really high – like to the top of one of the state's fourteeners. Generally a little light-headedness and slight headaches are normal when arriving in high country. If you experience severe and continued nausea, headache and dizziness, you should consult a doctor or get to lower altitudes. Altitude sickness, including High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) are concerns, especially over 8000 feet.
Sun exposure is the other big risk. Cover up and pile on the SPF sunscreen.
Always make lots of noise when traveling in the backcountry to avoid surprising a wild animal in its habitat.
Common-sense approaches to animal bites and stings are the most effective:
- Wear boots when hiking to protect from snakes.
- Wear long sleeves and pants to protect from ticks and mosquitoes.
- If you’re bitten, don’t overreact. Stay calm and seek the relevant treatment.
- Lyme disease can be caused by tick bites. In heavy woods it's smart to wear a hat, and check your friends for ticks at the end of the day.
- Do not attempt to pet, handle or feed any nondomestic animal. Most animal-related injuries are directly related to a person’s attempt to touch or feed the animal.
- Any bite or scratch from a mammal, including bats, should be promptly and thoroughly cleansed with large amounts of soap and water, followed by application of an antiseptic, such as iodine or alcohol.
- Local health authorities should be contacted immediately for possible rabies treatment, regardless of prior immunization.
- It may also be advisable to start an antibiotic: wounds caused by animal bites and scratches frequently become infected.
- There are several varieties of venomous snakes in Colorado; these snakes do not cause instantaneous death, and antivenins are available.
- Place a light constricting bandage over the bite, keep the wounded part below the level of the heart and move it as little as possible.
- Stay calm and get to a medical facility as soon as possible.
- Bring the dead snake for identification if you can, but don’t risk being bitten again.
- Do not use the mythic ‘cut an X and suck out the venom’ trick.
The chances of encountering an aggressive mountain lion are extremely small, but as humans encroach on their territory attacks are increasing. Avoid hiking alone in prime mountain-lion habitat and keep children within view; make lots of noise as you go. If you encounter one, raise your arms and back away slowly. Speak firmly or shout. If attacked, fight back fiercely.
Colorado has black bears, which are smaller than grizzlies and have very few incidences of attacking humans. Still, you should never get between a mother bear and her cubs. If camping, always hang your food, lock it in a bear-proof canister or keep it in a closed car. Make noise (whistling, clapping or chatting) when hiking in bear country so you don't surprise a bear. Don't run if you encounter one – they are fast. Back away slowly and avoid eye contact.
When planning a backpacking trip, make sure you know the park safety regulations. In Rocky Mountain National Park, campers are required to bring a bear-proof canister to store food, trash and toiletries in. (If you don't want to buy one, they usually may be rented from camping stores.)
One of the most dangerous animals in the Colorado wilderness is the moose. Never approach a moose, make lots of noise on the trails, and back away slowly if you run into one.
During hunting season, wear bright colors (eg yellow or orange) and make plenty of noise while walking.