You have probably heard that the Zika virus is a threat in Costa Rica. This is definitely true. It is possible to get Zika as well as a few other mosquito-spread illnesses while traveling. However, the threat of mosquitos in Costa Rica should not completely prevent you from visiting this beautiful country.
The Costa Rican government is working really hard to eradicate the mosquito problems. There are frequent sprays in areas with a high mosquito population and information is distributed to the population on a regular basis about the threat of standing water. However, the problem is far from being completely solved.
By taking some of your own precautions you can greatly reduce your chance of contracting a mosquito-borne illness in Costa Rica.
We created this guide to all the things you need to look out for and how to protect yourself from mosquito-based illnesses while traveling. Hopefully, with these tips, you will have a mosquito-free trip to Costa Rica!
Illnesses from Mosquitos in Costa Rica
There are three main mosquito born illnesses you need to think about in Costa Rica. Let’s start with the one everyone is talking about.
Zika in Costa Rica became a big concern a few years ago. It is definitely something you need to keep in mind as you travel here.
A lot of people infected with Zika show almost no symptoms. You might not even know you have Zika. Some mild symptoms you may experience are conjunctivitis, fever, rash, muscle pain, headache or joint pain.
Treatment and Prognosis
There is no set treatment. Drink plenty of fluids and get a lot of rest.
Note: Zika can cause birth defects. If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant within a year it is best to talk to your doctor before planning a visit to Costa Rica.
Not a fun illness, but fun to say! Try saying Chikungunya three times fast. I bet you can’t. OK, back on a more serious topic.
Chikungunya is a somewhat new problem with mosquitos in Costa Rica. At this point, there have not been that many confirmed cases in comparison with Zika and Dengue.
Sudden fever and joint pain. Some people also experience exhaustion, a headache, joint swelling, and a rash.
Treatment and Prognosis
There is no treatment besides letting it pass. Get plenty of rest, drink fluids, and take Paracetamol or Tylenol. You need to avoid aspirin until your doctor gives you the OK.
The pain can be debilitating but should pass within a few days to weeks. In certain cases, people experience joint pain for several months.
We have read that once you get once in your life you are unlikely to ever contract it again.
Dengue fever in Costa Rica is definitely something you need to be concerned about.
High fever and severe headaches, severe eye pain, mild bleeding (nose, gums etc.) muscle pain, joint pain, or a skin rash. Typically these symptoms will start three to fourteen days after being infected.
If you are experiencing a high fever and any of these symptoms see a doctor immediately.
Also, if you have previously had Dengue it is best to see your doctor before visiting Costa Rica. There is a Dengue vaccine but it is only recommended for people who have previously been infected. If you get infected a second time the symptoms tend to be a lot worse.
Treatment and Prognosis
There is no specific treatment for Dengue. Plenty of rest and lots of fluids are the usual course of action. Most cases of Dengue result in hospitalization for monitoring. This illness can kill you so please go to the doctor if you have any symptoms.
Patients generally recover in 2-7 days.
The Worst Places and Times for Mosquitos in Costa Rica
Mosquitos can be found in almost every location in Costa Rica and at every time of year. However, they are definitely some areas in which the problem is worse.
Mosquitos are typically a problem in coastal towns, especially in the early evening. Many coastal towns have rivers which run into the ocean. These rivers are prime mosquito breeding areas.
The mosquito problems can be worse during the rainy season when there is a lot more standing water which is prime mosquito breeding grounds.
How to Protect Yourself from Mosquitos in Costa Rica
There are several things you can do to protect yourself. Here is what has worked for us so far (fingers crossed it keeps working).
Avoid Buggy Situations
Early evenings and early mornings seem to be the times with the most mosquitos in Costa Rica. Thomas and I are big fans of early evening dinners outside so we can watch the sunset. We make sure to put on bug spray before we go out and also bring a bottle with us if we need a little bug spray refresher while out.
If you know you will be in a buggy area, cover your skin. Wear long sleeve shirts, pants and shoes. For me, my feet are mosquito’s favorite food. I always make sure my feet and ankles are completely covered when I’m in a buggy area.
Check the CDC Website
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website is your best source on all things illness related while traveling abroad. Here you can see current information on which vaccines you need before visiting, which insects to watch out for, and more!
Purchase Travel Insurance
Travel insurance can be a lifesaver (literally) while traveling. If you get ill from a mosquito-transmitted illness you will want to have the option of getting immediate medical care. We love World Nomads for travel insurance. You can read all about our experience using this company here.
Use Good Mosquito Proofing Products
The CDC website recommends using DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, and IR3535 as protection against mosquitos. You can learn all about our favorite products below.
Our Favorite Mosquito Proofing Products
Bug Spray – We like to put the least amount of chemicals on our skin as possible, but when it comes to the mosquitos here we don’t mess around. Give me all the DEET!! I really don’t want Dengue. If you would like to be a bit better, there are some great eucalyptus products on the market. We also recently heard that mosquito repellent wipes are a thing as well.
Mosquito Netting – I had never thought about bringing mosquito netting while traveling around Costa Rica, but someone mentioned it recently in our Costa Rica Facebook group. If you are primarily staying at hostels or budget hotels, it might not be a bad idea to bring your own mosquito netting.
If you are staying at resorts or high-end hotels, it is completely unnecessary. If you are on the fence about it just email the places you are planning to stay. They will be able to tell you if they already have mosquito netting or if it is even a problem there.
Mosquito Coils – Mosquito coils are great for burning while you are sitting outside and want to keep the bugs at bay. I am not positive if you can bring these on the plane or if they are considered a flammable object. I would suggest buying them in Costa Rica instead. The only cost a few dollars and you can get them at all grocery stores.
Mosquito Zapper – It is possible to buy a mini mosquito zapper on Amazon. This is small enough to easily carry in your luggage. I don’t feel like it is totally necessary to bring one. You will likely be just fine without it, but I will say that we use our mosquito zapper frequently.
Mosquito Bracelets – Did you know there are bracelets that contain oils which repel mosquitos? We have never used these, so I can’t say much about them.
However, one of the few people we know who actually got Dengue in Costa Rica was here for one week and used these bracelets. Clearly, they were not very useful for him. If you have tried them out let us know how you liked them.
Tips for Using Mosquito Proofing Products
-Buy bug spray before you come to Costa Rica – Mosquito repellant tends to be about double the cost it is in the US. If you are interested in the mosquito coils. I found some here for less than a dollar recently. You have to remember that things which are imported have a high tax, so in general bug spray will be a lot more expensive here.
-You are not allowed to fly with aerosol cans in your luggage – Make sure to buy a regular spray can instead of aerosol.
-If you bring your bug spray with you make sure to put it in a sealed ziplock bag for the flight – Trust me, getting the smell of bug spray out of everything you own is not fun.
Where Should You Go if You Think You Have a Mosquito-Borne Illness?
Typically you probably won’t realize that you have an illness from a mosquito until you return to your home country because the incubation period is usually at least a few days to two weeks after getting bitten.
If you think you have a mosquito-spread illness and that you need medical attention your first stop should be the front desk of your hotel. They can direct you to a nearby pharmacy, doctor, or hospital. They should also be able to help you find someone who speaks English if you need to.
If things are very severe it is best to get to San Jose to one of the private hospitals. The two best private hospitals in San Jose are CIMA and Clinica Biblica. We have never had to get medical treatment at the hospital here, but I have heard better things about CIMA. The other problem with Clinica Biblica is that it is directly in the downtown area and traffic around there is crazy.
Don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before your trip or make sure you are covered internationally by your health insurance provider.
Our Experience with Mosquitos in Costa Rica
We live in San Jose where there aren’t many mosquitos. However, in the past six months or so the mosquitos have been horrible at our house. We think one of our neighbors must have standing water which is becoming a mosquito breeding ground.
It has gotten to the point where I have to coat myself in bug spray multiple times a day and I’m still getting bitten! Yes, I do smell like a walking citronella candle. It’s very attractive. 😉
Neither of us has ever gotten any illnesses from mosquitos (that we know of). However, we do know a few people who have gotten Dengue. It is not a common thing, but it has happened to people we know.
The few people we know of were all fine, but one did end up in the hospital for a while. It’s definitely not a fun illness!
With proper precautions, you can definitely lower your chances of contracting a mosquito-borne illness here, but it is hard to eliminate all risk. At a point, you just have to cross your fingers and hope you will be OK.
Let us know if you have any questions about protecting yourself from mosquitos in Costa Rica in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you out!
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