Dengue in Costa Rica

Dengue is a virus that is transmitted by mosquitoes in tropical countries.  There is no vaccine currently available.  The symptoms include fever, headache, joint pain and a characteristic rash that looks like measles.  In the first nine days of July, a hospital in Alajuela which borders Nicaragua has delt with 133 patients per day, due to a heavy presence of dengue. This medical center was overwhelmed and minor procedures, were suspended because almost all resources were occupied by treating patients infected by the disease, which is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti species of mosquito.  In the interim, this hospital is actually closing due to its need to focus on helping patients with dengue symptoms. Doctor Ortega, the director of the hospital describes this situation as critical, as there are 60 cases, which have been confirmed by laboratory testing and up to 400 people who have been diagnosed medically.

“This is the first time we have in Upala an outbreak of this magnitude, if not performed more aggressive vector control, this could get out of our hands,” said Ortega.

Should Tourists Be Concerned?

Tourists should be prepared, but not concerned.  First of all, the mosquito which carries the Dengue virus is only active in very remote tropical areas of Costa Rica.  I would be surprised if there are any cases in the Central Valley. Yes, I have gone into the jungle unprotected and have received many mosquito bites in Costa Rica.  have I experienced Dengue?  Absolutely not.  I’m not saying don’t worry.  I was stupid for forgetting insect repellent and certainly could have been putting my health at risk.  Whenever you are in a tropical climate, where there are mosquitoes, you must always use insect repellent with DEET.dengue-costa-rica

Dengue might not kill you, but it can be very disabling.  It will ruin your trip if you get it. Keep in mind there are two stages to the virus.  The second infection can result in hemorrhagic fever, about 5% of the time, which can cause permanent joint damage.  This is why they call this virus – the bone break virus.  Victims literally feel like their joints are falling apart.

Facts About Dengue in Costa Rica

  • About 60% of the outbreaks occur in the Caribbean, North Pacific and Central Pacific regions.
  • 12,000 cases of dengue have been reported in 2013.  Of those, 60 resulted in dangerous hemorrhagic fever.
  • Since 1993, there have been 22 deaths caused by dengue.  One death was reported in 2013.
  • The public health care system in Costa Rica (CAJA) spends around $9 million per year combating the disease.

Final fact, the presence of dengue fever in Costa Rica should not change your travel plans whatsoever.  I don’t think there has ever been a case of a North America who acquired dengue fever in Costa Rica.  I could be wrong, but you would think it would be all over the news.  Come on down and don’t forget to use insect repellent.

8 Comments on “Dengue in Costa Rica

  1. We’re planning on staying in an open-air house in Matapalo during the last week of August. As a result of the recent outbreak of dengue (I’ve heard now 14,000 cases), we’re reconsidering whether living in an environment with 24 hr exposure to mosquitos is a smart choice. The area is on the Pacific Coast and I assume would qualify as “rural.” It is on the beach, has an abundance of wildlife, and we will be visiting near the heart of the rainy season. Would you recommend we revise our living arrangement plans? We could of course stay in a hotel with screens and/or AC which would allow us a respite from the outdoors but of course it’s likely we’d be outdoors for activities during some prime mosquito hours anyway (early mornings and late afternoons). Thanks for any input.

    • Stephanie,

      I forgot to mention, there a lot of hotel promotions in the area where you are staying. Let me know if you want help finding one. You can save up to 40% and there are many all-inclusive deals.

  2. Hi Stephenie,

    If you are going to be staying in Matapalo, which is near the beach on the Pacific coast, I would not be overly alarmed. The main problem areas are farther north on the Nicaraguan border and there is always a problem in the Caribbean. That said, there is Dengue all over Costa Rica and the rainy season is the worst. My house is open air, but we are in the Central Valley. At the coast, I would recommend an air conditioned environment, regardless of dengue, due to the heat. I cannot sleep in the heat. However, if you need to sleep in an open-air house, I would buy mosquito nets and hang those over the bed. When you are not sleep, just apply repellent with DEET when you go out. I take my kids to the beach all of the time, and we are all fine. Of course, the most risk adverse option is an air conditioned hotel, but you still need repellent when you venture out. I hope this helps.

  3. I will be styling in The Springs near Arenel. How is it there for Dengue Fever? Thanks

    • The dry season certainly helps with mosquitoes and Dengue. This usually starts in November through April. Yes, I expect there to be a downturn in the number of cases reported in the dry season. Mosquitoes need water to reproduce.

  4. Just got back from a Christmas vacation in the N/W town of Samara. My family got lots of bug bites. Most from what appeared to be sand fleas. A few mosquitos as well. Between sun block and bug spray I’m surprised my liver did not give up. The country side and beaches were great. Wished a few more locals spoke English.

    • Hi Jarrod,

      I’m glad you had a good time. I don’t think sun block and bug spray cause liver damage and hope you are okay. Concerning locals who speak English… I’m sure they say the same thing. They wish more tourist speak Spanish. 🙂

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