If you have not been to Costa Rica before you can be forgiven for thinking that the country is plagued with tropical diseases, as some travel guidebooks on Costa Rica seem to imply with their elaboration on a long list of potential health risks. The reality is that the standard of living and hygiene in Costa Rica is relatively high compared to other developing nations in Latin America, and it is recognized by international medical authorities as having one of the best health care systems in the world in preventive and curative medicines, including both public and private sector care providers. The United Nations consistently ranks Costa Rica’s public health system as the best in Latin America and one of the top 20 in the world.
Costa Ricans are a healthy people, the cradle-to-grave health care system reaches all levels of society, offering the same medical treatment to the poor as those with greater personal resources. Hospitals, clinics and various medical services are available in all major cities and towns. Hospitals have the latest equipment and laboratories are excellent. Most Costa Rican doctors have been trained in Europe, Canada or the United States; many speak English, even while receptionists and nurses do not.
Pharmacies are numerous in Costa Rica and they stock the standard range of medicines as found in Canada and the U.S. Many types of medicines that require a prescription in North America are in fact freely available over-the-counter here and prices of medicines are generally lower. Pharmacists in Costa Rica are quite used to answering questions and giving free medical advice.
Staying healthy during your time in Costa Rica comes down to personal hygiene and a healthy dose of common sense: be wary of food sold by street vendors; drink only bottled water in remote area or port cities; peel and thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables with potable water before eating; stick to hot, well-cooked meals; wash your hands frequently and especially before eating.
The two most prevalent public health problems in Costa Rica, dengue fever and malaria, are transmitted by mosquitoes and do not have preventive vaccines. The best precaution is to avoid being bitten; avoid places with stagnant water, wear long-sleeved clothing at and after dusk, apply insect repellent containing DEET, spray the area where you sleep with insecticide or burn mosquito coils, sleep under mosquito nets in mosquito infested areas.
Major private hospitals in San Jose, such as CIMA and Clinica Biblica, accept international insurance, such as BUPA International. If you are paying out-of-pocket, cost of consultations varies from $40 to $60 per visit, overnight stays in a private facility varies from $200 to $300, tests and medications extra. Also check with your credit card company to ascertain if overseas medical or emergency treatments are covered when you use the credit card to pay for your flights; you may need to supplement the coverage with a short term travel insurance policy through your card services or your travel agents. Remember to pack your insurance documents as well as leave a set of copies at home.
While in Costa Rica many tourists also take advantage of the high standard and the low cost of dental care; some come here especially to have cosmetic dental work done inexpensively.
* If your visit is over 6 weeks, or your plans include traveling to remote areas, or involve coming into contact with animals, check with your family doctor about the need for vaccinations against hepatitis A and typhoid.
* If you are on medication, take with you twice as much as you need and pack them separately; one portion in your hand luggage and another portion in your suitcase. Send an email to your own e-mail address with all the vital information concerning your health and your medication so you can retrieve this information at any time if needed.
* Avoid sunbathing between 11.30 am and 14.30 pm. Apply lots of sun block if you are out on the beach or open trails, even on overcast days. Rub and cover thoroughly prior to sun exposure; wear your sunhat and sunglasses to protect your eyes from extreme sun glare.
* Keep hydrated by constantly drinking lots of water throughout the day; 6 full glasses per day minimum for adults is recommended. Remember that alcoholic and caffeinated beverages do not hydrate your body like H2O. If you are traveling with children, give them water instead of soft drinks.
* Avoid walking in bare feet or sandals in grassy and wet areas. Proper footwear or boots can prevent ticks and leeches from sticking to your body. If you encounter a snake, stay still until it slithers away. Shake your shoes before putting them on in the morning, as scorpions and spiders are not uncommon in lodging facilities in the rainforests.
* Pack a basic travel first aid kit which contains Dramamine (motion sickness pills but also helps with nausea from a stomach bug), Painkillers, Antibiotics for diarrhea, Pepto-Bismol, Tums, Maalox or Mylanta, Claritin (for allergic reactions), Band-aids, Bandaid tape, Telfa pads, Hydrocortisone cream (anti-itch remedy), Antiseptic cream and wipes.
* After arriving at a destination, find out how to get to the local hospital or clinic, how to contact a local doctor, where the nearest pharmacy is, and the number to dial for medical emergency.