Dengue fever in Costa Rica?

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of September 28-October 5, 1995

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Dengue fever in Costa Rica?
Q: I'd like to go to Costa Rica, but the U.S. State Department report claims that thousands of cases of Dengue fever have been reported on both coasts recently. None of the travel medicine sites (Stanford University, University of Wisconsin) or the CDC corroborate that Costa Rica poses such a risk. There is a variant, called Dengue Hemorraghic Fever, which is quite rare. Is this a real risk if one goes with a well-known and qualified travel outfitter? Thanks.
Sunnyvale, CA
[email protected]

A: Recent epidemics of dengue or "breakbone" fever have occurred in Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua, and thousands of cases of dengue have been reported in Costa Rica since 1993. Except during periods of epidemic, however, there is only a low risk for travelers to pick up the fever.

A viral infection, dengue is spread by the bite of the Aedes mosquito and results in a sudden onset of flu-like symptoms such as high fever, headaches, and a rash. The mosquitoes are most active around dawn and dusk, and reside particularly in populated areas of the tropics and subtropics, although they are rarely found at elevations above 4,000 feet. A more severe version of dengue, dengue hemorrhagic fever, is extremely rare among travelers.

Take some simple precautions to lessen the already remote chance of picking up the disease: As epidemics usually occur during and immediately after the rainy season, which begins in May and runs through November, limit your travel during this season. Douse yourself with bug repellent to prevent mosquito bites, and, as a general rule, always pay attention to the quality of your drinking water and food.

To help ease your mind, know that Costa Rica Experts, 800-837-9046, which sends four to five thousand tourists to Costa Rica each year, has never had any of their clients pick up dengue, even though most of their trips are individually tailored and send people off the beaten path. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 404-332-4559, and the U.S. Department of State Worldwide Travel Advisory, 202-647-5225, provide the most updated information on the risk in individual countries.

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