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FAQ - What about Malaria (and other health concerns)

Minneapolis...
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FAQ - What about Malaria (and other health concerns)

People coming to Roatan often have health concern questions, especially about malaria and whether or not to take medication to prevent contracting it.

There are several different points of view. I'm hoping we can have a thoughtful and respectful presentation and discussion here that will be suitable for adding to the right-hand FAQs column.

So - what are the health considerations for a tourist coming to Roatan?

Edited: 20 December 2012, 21:34
Sudbury, Canada
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1. Re: FAQ - What about Malaria (and other health concerns)

Malaria is present on the Bay Islands as well as the mainland. Both the CDC and Health Canada (and I'm sure others) suggest anti-malarial medication. If you have a drug plan or can afford to pay on your own, why would you take a chance with your health or the health of your kids and not take the drug???? The newer drugs (malarone) have very few side effects, are well tolerated and do not damage the liver. I would suggest, rather than take advice from a forum like this, that you go to a tropical disease specialist or at least your GP and ask for his/her advice. Of course if you are an MD you don't need their educated advice and can decide on your own.

If for what ever reason you decide not to take anti-malarials then cover yourself with mosquito spray containing deet and try to avoid being outside during dawn and dusk.

Make sure all your vaccinations (hepatitis A&B, tetanus etc) are up to date before travelling. Also make sure you have travel medical insurance in case you need medical attention, especially that which a 3rd world country can not provide. Also carry with you a more than a generous supply of whatever medications you take, do not assume you can get them on the island.

Minneapolis...
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2. Re: FAQ - What about Malaria (and other health concerns)

Thanks for that very written and thought-out contribution, Northern!

The CDC page is quite helpful...

…cdc.gov/travel/destinations/honduras.htm

and I appreciate the warning - yes, of course, no one should rely on a forum posting as a substitute for medical advice. I like to do my online research before I see my doctor, but any decisions we make are "joint" decisions.

Travel clinics can be very helpful. Since we have traveled quite a lot, we have seen the travel specialst and don't do a new travel clinic visit for Roatan. We know our vacinations are up to date, so we just call our GP and he gives us the anti-malarial drugs.

About Hepatitis B... for many years we made sure our Hep A coverage was taken care of, but when they asked if we ever had sex with multiple partners or used IV drugs we kind of smugly said we'd been reliably married for over 40 years and didn't do drugs. Until my GP looked at me and said have you ever come close to being in a car accident in an underdeveloped country. I laughed - you are ALWAYS close to being in a car accident if you are near a road in an underdeveloped country. He said "Can you imagine ever being in a situation where you might need a blood transfusion in an out-of-the-way place... or in a place where they reuse needles?" We got Hep B coverage as well.

About travel insurance... I don't worry too much about delays (we're retired) and lost bays (they've always shown up eventually) but we do worry about having a serious illness and wanting/needing to get health care back home, not in some out of the way place. So we do usually get travel insurance. We use different companies, looking for a reliable company that will provide us with transportation home. Rather than suggesting a particular company, I'll suggest using a site that will compare a bunch of different policies based on your trip information. I have always used insuremytrip.com... and I remember folks on this forum have suggested another similar search site that was very good.

On the CDC list, the only item we've not done is the rabies vacination. Our cost/benefit analysis has never resulted in a "yes" for the vacinations. On the other hand, our daughter got an accidental dog puncture from a friendly puppy in the rain forest in Ecuador... and had some fearful times and travel to a place with a hospital... I personally just don't feel vulnerable enough of Roatan to do the rabies thing...

People should know that medical facilities on the island are pretty basic. If you do have to head to the hospital, bring your own sheets, food, medications, etc.

Edited: 21 December 2012, 02:03
Sudbury, Canada
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3. Re: FAQ - What about Malaria (and other health concerns)

You are most welcome idiots. Forums like this can be a wealth of information and a means of getting people to think about important things and not just the beach, rum, divng and sunshine....

The reason I brought up the travel medical insurance is that I experienced the health care 'system' on Roatan last winter and I can assure you that no Canadian, American or Brit will have experienced anything quite like it at home. No one wants to get sick or have an accident while away but it does happen and when in a country as poor as Honduras and on an island with such basic health care you need to make sure you can be flown home if you need invasive type procedures or high tech treatment...

Utila, Honduras
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4. Re: FAQ - What about Malaria (and other health concerns)

hep b is a good suggestion. my father got it at the age of 70 after receiving medical treatment while on vacation in tonga.

Burlington, Canada
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5. Re: FAQ - What about Malaria (and other health concerns)

After investigating all the official information on this subject in the end it boils down to individual choice, weighing out the risk with what you feel comfortable injecting into your body and how much insurance you want to have in your life. I fall on the side of the fence where if I am in Roatan for one week out of the year, staying at a heavily mosquito sprayed property in West Bay, I would rather deet up for a few hours at night when outside (or when exploring somewhere more woodsy) than put meds/injections into my body. I always take a quick shower when I come in from the evening to wash the deet off, as the stuff is gross but it works (just like Buckleys..ha). Even if you take the malaria meds you're still going to have to wear deet if you don't want to be itching at skitter bites and avoid being on the sand especially at dusk and dawn (itchy sand fly bites...far worst than skitter bites...itchy, itchy and they last for two weeks). You can check this out while doing your research but i did read that the mosquitoes that tend to carry malaria are the most active between dusk and dawn and especially around midnight. I don't know that I have ever since past 11:00 pm in Roatan....can't say that for Mexico...but we won't get into those stories. Different illness but I would never get the flu shot either...I think this has gotten blown way out of proportion...so you get the flu...big deal it's part of life....if I was 84 and died of the flu so what??? Anyhoo that's just me I figure there is already enough bad "stuff" that finds it way into my system....chips, beer, etc

Fairfax, California
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6. Re: FAQ - What about Malaria (and other health concerns)

Dear Idiot,

From Tanzania to Honduras! My you do get around!!! Great minds think alike! Off to trek Kili and Safari soon and am having fun planning a dive vacation in Utila a few months later!

Life is good! And I am DAMN lucky!

Susie

Minnesota
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7. Re: FAQ - What about Malaria (and other health concerns)

It certainly all boils down to what risks you're willing to take. We didn't get Hep B because the doctor we saw never mentioned accidents/hospitalization, and I wish now that he would have...... we would have gotten those vaccinations, too. We did do the malaria meds. And while I agree the chances of being infected on a one week trip are slim, malaria is a "forever" disease. And, while I was there last year, sitting on the patio at Infinity Bay in the early morning hours, I looked down and a giant mosquito was gorging on the blood in my upper thigh. Probably the only mosquito I saw on the entire trip. However, had I not been on malaria meds, I would have worried about malaria for weeks until the danger had passed. Certainly worth the small amount of time, $, and trouble to take a weekly pill for a few weeks, IMHO. But, everyone's got a different level of concern about these things.

Sudbury, Canada
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8. Re: FAQ - What about Malaria (and other health concerns)

Yes the chances of contracting malaria during a one or two week trip to the Bay Islands is low, it has happened. There was a thread on here last year where a female from Toronto (I think) was infected with malaria while staying at IB in West Bay. It does come down to the chances you are willing to take with your life/health but when deciding for your kids (or even an elderly parent) think long and hard, it's not just about you...

Menlo Park...
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9. Re: FAQ - What about Malaria (and other health concerns)

so I went to the travel clinic at my local Kaiser Foundation hospital to pick up a prescription for hydroxychloroquine as I do every year. This year they also threw in a free Hep A shot, because my records didn't show I had ever had it, The more I look into the matter, it appears to me that one would be way more likely to get hep A than malaria, especially for me since I spend most of my waking hours in Roatan in the water. So now I have a lifetime immunity to hep A and will also be protected against malaria. I got a hep B shot a while ago.

But there's more to the story. They also gave me typhoid vaccine. I don't know whether this is related to travel or to Roatan. Is this something new to worry about?

And as far as taking malaria meds, the CDC is correct about Roatan being a malarial area, as is occasionally proven when someone gets it. If you forego the meds, well, I hope you're feeling lucky.

Edited: 22 December 2012, 16:41
Minneapolis...
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10. Re: FAQ - What about Malaria (and other health concerns)

Typhoid protection is suggested for anybody traveling to Mexico, Central America, and pretty much any underdeveloped area. Typhoid is a human-to-human disease, usually passed along by drinking water that has been contaminated through human feces. (Yeah - it's gross - but we've traveled a lot to places that don't have the luxury of good santiary facilities and fresh water... like most of the world...)

So yes - anybody who travels should have up-to-date typhoid coverage.

Traditionally, there have been two methods. The innoculation is good for two years. The pills (four doses) are good for 5 years. Actually, dhauk, I'm surprised they gave you the vaccine. I recently had a traveler say that the travel clinic told them the vaccine was withdrawn and only the pills were available - maybe just a temporary thing. I just liked the 5 year coverage rather than the two year...