Tropical Diseases in Belize: What are the risks?

A stethoscope resting on an open medical text.

Photo © DrFarouk, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

The main tropical diseases in Belize are malaria, Chagas disease (also known as the kissing bug disease), dengue fever, and leishmaniasis. They are known as arthropod-borne diseases, which means they are diseases which can be transmitted to humans from insects. Dengue and malaria are carried by mosquitoes, Chagas’ disease is transmitted by the assassin bug, and leishmaniasis by sand flies. Generally, common symptoms are flu-like, with aching joints, headaches, and high temperature. Cholera, typhoid, tuberculosis, and rabies can also be found in Belize but the risk is considered low and immunization helps prevention. You will rarely meet anyone who has lived in Belize who has experienced these diseases, but it’s important to be aware of them.

Not all mosquitoes carry dengue or malaria and not at all times of the year (the wet season is the worst), so don’t panic if you get bitten.Incidences of malaria have decreased dramatically since the 1980s when the government carried out extensive mosquito eradication programs. Malaria is now rare in developed areas due to eradication. Not all mosquitoes carry dengue or malaria and not at all times of the year (the wet season is the worst), so don’t panic if you get bitten. You will more than likely be bitten several times, that does not mean you will become ill. Make sure you have some cream or gel for the bites because they can itch a lot.

The best precautions you can take against malaria are to use Deet (especially at dawn and dusk—the worst periods for mosquitoes), bed nets impregnated with permethrin (make sure they’re tucked into your mattress), and screened rooms; burn mosquito coils; stay in air-conditioned or breezy rooms; and cover up arms and legs early in the morning and in the evening if you are outside when mosquitoes are most active. You may ask for chloroquine pills, but it’s best not to take them over an extended period of time. Sprinkling citronella essence of oil also seems to deter mosquitoes. Citronella insect repellent balm is made in Toledo by Doctors Mascia and Tsang and is available locally. Empty any containers of stagnant water or add a few drops of oil, as such conditions are ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

Vaccinations

Getting vaccinations and medications, such as anti-malarials like chloroquine pills for malaria and dengue fever, are a personal choice. The only exception to this is that you must get the vaccination for yellow fever if you are coming from a part of the world where it is a problem, like Africa or South America. If you have traveled to those areas, bring your vaccination certificate as proof that you received the vaccine.

Recommended vaccines are hepatitis A and B, typhoid, rabies, measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) if you didn’t have it as a child, and tetanus/diphtheria.


Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Living Abroad in Belize.

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