Florida, and the USA generally, has a high level of hygiene, so infectious diseases are not generally a significant concern for most travelers.
- Vaccines are not required and tap water is safe to drink.
- Despite Florida’s plethora of intimidating wildlife, the main concerns for travelers are sunburn and mosquito bites.
- Ensure you have adequate health insurance in case of accidents. If you experience a major medical emergency in the Everglades, the chances are you will end up in Miami.
- Most of the major islands in the Keys, including Marathon, Islamorada and Key Largo, have emergency medical facilities.
Checking insurance quotes…
Before You Go
The USA offers possibly the finest level of health care in the world. The problem is that it can be prohibitively expensive. If you're not a US citizen, it’s essential to purchase travel-health insurance if your domestic policy doesn’t cover you when you’re abroad.
- If your health insurance does not cover you for medical expenses abroad, consider obtaining supplemental health or travel insurance.
- Find out in advance whether your insurance plan will make payments directly to the providers or if it will reimburse you later for any overseas health expenditures.
We have to stress: a simple visit to the doctor's office can cost hundreds of dollars, and a hospital stay will cost thousands if you aren't covered by insurance.
There is a vast wealth of travel health advice on the internet. Two good sources:
MD Travel Health (www.mdtravelhealth.com) Provides complete, updated and free travel-health recommendations for every country.
World Health Organization (www.who.int/ith) The superb book International Travel and Health is available free online.
Also, consult your government’s travel-health website before departure, if one is available:
- Bring any medications you may need in their original containers, clearly labeled.
- A signed, dated letter from your physician that describes all of your medical conditions and medications (including generic names) is also a good idea.
- Pharmacies are abundantly supplied. However, some medications that are available over the counter in other countries require a prescription in the USA.
- If you don’t have insurance to cover the cost of prescriptions (and sometimes even if you do), these can be shockingly expensive.
In South Florida & the Keys
Availability & Cost of Healthcare
- If you have a medical emergency, go to the emergency room of the nearest hospital.
- If you need any kind of emergency assistance, such as police, ambulance or firefighters, call 911. This is a free call from any phone.
- If the problem isn’t urgent, call a nearby hospital and ask for a referral to a local physician; this is usually cheaper than a trip to the emergency room.
- Stand-alone, for-profit urgent-care centers provide good service, but can be the most expensive option.
In addition to more-common ailments, there are several infectious diseases to be aware of. Most are acquired by mosquito or tick bites.
Zika Miami made the news in 2016 for having an outbreak of this mosquito-borne illness. There were over 260 locally acquired cases in South Florida. Zika is of gravest concern to pregnant women, as the disease can cause microcephaly (when the brain does not develop fully) and lead to serious birth defects in unborn children.
Giardiasis Also known as traveler’s diarrhea. A parasitic infection of the small intestines, typically contracted by drinking feces-contaminated freshwater. Never drink untreated stream, lake or pond water. Easily treated with antibiotics.
HIV/AIDS As do all sexually transmitted diseases, HIV infection occurs in the USA. Use a condom for all sexual encounters.
Lyme Disease Though more common in the US northeast than in Florida, Lyme disease occurs here. It is transmitted by infected deer ticks, and is signaled by a bull’s-eye rash at the bite and flulike symptoms. Treat promptly with antibiotics. Removing ticks within 36 hours can avoid infection.
Rabies Though rare, the rabies virus can be contracted from the bite of any infected animal; bats are most common, and their bites are not always obvious. If bitten by any animal, consult with a doctor, since rabies is fatal if untreated.
West Nile Virus Extremely rare in Florida, West Nile virus is transmitted by culex mosquitoes. Most infections are mild or asymptomatic, but serious symptoms and even death can occur. There is no treatment for West Nile virus. For the latest update on affected areas, see the US Geological Survey disease maps (http://disease maps.usgs.gov).
Florida’s critters can be cute, but they can also bite and sting. Here are a few to watch out for.
Alligators and snakes Neither attacks humans unless startled or threatened. If you encounter them, simply back away. Florida has several venomous snakes; immediately seek treatment if bitten.
Jellyfish and stingrays Florida beaches can see both; avoid swimming when they’re present (lifeguards often post warnings). Treat stings immediately; they hurt but aren’t dangerous.
Spiders Florida is home to two dangerously venomous spiders – the black widow and the brown recluse. Seek immediate treatment if bitten by any spider.
Tap water is safe to drink throughout South Florida.