Florida (and the USA generally) has a high level of hygiene, so infectious diseases are not a significant concern for most travelers. There are no required vaccines, and tap water is safe to drink. Despite Florida's plethora of intimidating wildlife, the main concerns for travelers are sunburn and mosquito bites – as well as arriving with adequate health insurance in case of accidents.
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Before You Go
There are no vaccination requirements for visitors to the US, and no specific vaccination needs for visiting Florida.
The US offers some of the finest health care in the world. The problem is that it can be prohibitively expensive. Citizens from other nations should not even think about travel to the States without adequate travel insurance covering medical care. It's essential to purchase travel health insurance if your policy doesn't cover you when you're abroad. Find out in advance whether your insurance plan will make payments directly to the providers or if they will reimburse you later for any overseas health expenditures.
Accidents and unforeseen illnesses do happen and horror stories of people's vacations turning into nightmares when they're hit with hefty hospital bills for seemingly innocuous concerns are common. Hospital bills for car accidents, falls or serious medical emergencies can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Look for an insurance policy that provides at least $1 million of medical coverage. Policies with unlimited medical coverage are also available at a higher premium, but are usually not necessary. You may be surprised at how inexpensive good insurance can be.
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.
Consult your government's travel health website before departure, if one is available. There is a vast wealth of travel-health advice on the internet.
Two good sources:
MD Travel Health (https://redplanet.travel/mdtravelhealth) 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.
Availability & Cost of Health Care
In general, if you have a medical emergency, go to the emergency room of the nearest hospital. 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, moneymaking urgent-care centers provide good service, but can be the most expensive option.
Pharmacies (called drugstores) are abundantly supplied. However, some medications that are available over the counter in other countries require a prescription in the US. If you don't have insurance to cover the cost of prescriptions, these can be shockingly expensive.
Tap water in Florida is drinkable and safe.
Animal & Spider Bites
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 attack humans unless startled or threatened. If you encounter them, simply back away calmly. Florida has several venomous snakes, so always immediately seek treatment if bitten.
Bears and wildcats Florida is home to a small population of black bears and predatory felines such as the lynx and Florida panther: one of the rarest and most endangered species on the planet. All are generally incredibly hard to spot and live deep in wilderness areas. Should you be lucky (or unlucky) enough to encounter these critters in the wild, stay calm, do not provoke the animal and don't be afraid to make a little noise (talking, jiggling keys) to alert the animal of your presence. In the rare and unfortunate event of an attack, do your best to defend yourself and retreat to a covered position as soon as possible.
Jellyfish and stingrays Florida beaches can see both; avoid swimming when they are present (lifeguards often post warnings). Treat stings immediately; they hurt but aren't dangerous.
Spiders Florida is home to two venomous spiders – the black widow and the brown recluse. Seek immediate treatment if bitten by any spider.
In addition to more-common ailments, there are several infectious diseases that are unknown or uncommon outside North America. Most are acquired by mosquito or tick bites.
Giardiasis Also known as traveler's diarrhea. A parasitic infection of the small intestines, typically contracted by drinking feces-contaminated fresh water. Never drink untreated stream, lake or pond water. Easily treated with antibiotics.
HIV/AIDS HIV infection occurs in the US, as do all sexually transmitted infections: incidences of syphilis are on the rise. Use condoms for all sexual encounters.
Lyme Disease Though more common in the US northeast than 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://diseasemaps.usgs.gov).
Zika This mosquito-borne virus has been linked to serious birth defects, including microcephaly, when contracted by expectant mothers during pregnancy. Although the virus was found in Miami-Dade County as recently as 2016, at the time of writing there have been no active, ongoing cases of transmission in the state.