Guide to staying well and healthy while you visit and travel in Mexico, as well as how to access medical services when you need them…
Common Health Ailments
Accessing Doctors, Dentists, and Hospitals in Mexico
Buying Medicines in Mexico
Health Insurance for Your Travels in Mexico
Medical Evacuation from Mexico
Health Care for Extended Stays in Mexico
Do you need to Immunize for Mexico?
Many people who have never traveled to Mexico get the impression that immunization is an absolute requirement for Mexico. It is not in many cases. It is in some, depending where you plan to go.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of Americans travel to Mexico for their holidays, just as the British travel to Spain. Most Americans travel to Mexico’s beaches, resorts, colonial cities, archaeological sites, and other well-established tourist places. Many of them don’t immunize themselves for these trips. Do you need to? Probably not, but the choice is a personal one and you should speak with your doctor if you are uncertain.
Unless you plan to travel off the beaten track, for example, take jungle tours, or plan to travel in rural and/or remote areas of Mexico, or places that are not well established, the likelihood is, you won’t need to immunize yourself. The choice is a personal one and you should check with your doctor before you travel.
Remote Areas and Tropical Jungle
For travelers planning to explore life in Mexico off the beaten track, for example in the Jungle regions, immunization is a planning requirement.
If you are traveling with children, or you are a pregnant woman, remote / jungle areas are probably best avoided anyway.
It is important that you speak with your doctor about the necessary immunizations for the areas you are traveling to. People who travel off the beaten track in Mexico generally immunize themselves for the some or all of the following:
Diphtheria,Tetanus & Measles: You are probably already vaccinated against all of these. Boosters are necessary every 10 years – check with your doctor.
Hepatitis A: This is a travel illness like diarrhea, but much worse. It attacks the liver and is contracted by putting a contaminated substance (like food or water) into your mouth. A vaccination is available which requires a booster after 6 months.
Hepatitis B: Like Hepatitis A, this affects the liver but is caused by a different virus. Symptoms are more severe. It is spread by exposure to blood and sexual contact with people. A vaccination is available.
Typhoid: If you’re traveling to areas that are very remote, or especially where there may be hygiene issues – in particular risky water supplies – get vaccinated for this. Read the about drinking water in Mexico. Drinking un-purified or contaminated water is the most common cause of Typhoid. A vaccination is available (given orally or an injection).
Malaria: You need to get professional advice on this, as Malaria drugs are specific and subject to many factors including the area to which you are going, what other medicines you are taking and your medical history, etc.
Rabies: Mexico is not a rabies-free country, but through a government-backed domestic pets vaccination program that has been running continuously since the 1990s, the number of domestic animals with the disease has been virtually eradicated, so the risks of contracting rabies in everyday situations is very low. However, if your activities will include things like caving or exposure to wild animals – you may want to get vaccinated for rabies (3 injections over the course of a month); alternatively, you can be vaccinated AFTER being bitten, but must see a doctor AT ONCE.
Common Health Ailments
If you have never traveled outside of your home country/continent before, it is normal that you may experience some health ailments as a result of exposing yourself to a brand-new environment, perhaps on a different continent. Here is a list of the most commonly reported ailments that travelers to Mexico experience. Some are unavoidable, due to the climate or environment; others can be caused by exposing yourself to bacteria in undercooked foods or some liquids, which may not affect ‘locals’, but which may cause havoc with you! You can scroll down the list, or read about a specific ailment by clicking it from the list below:
“Tourist” or sometimes known as “Montezuma’s Revenge” is the most common health ailment experienced by foreign visitors to Mexico. Turista is a mild form of diarrhea, although it does come in a variety of strengths and can last from a day to a week. A change of environment (food, climate) could cause a mild bout of this, and you should not be concerned if it does—it’s quite normal.
More severe forms are acquired by drinking non-purified water (the most common way) or foods that have not been properly prepared. Provided that you eat sensibly (only at good restaurants, hotels), watch the water you drink (see drinking water in Mexico ) and don’t overdo it on the spicy food, you should be fine. If you do become affected, the BEST thing is lots of liquids (not much food)—and go and buy some “Pedialyte” (pronounced “peh-dee-ah-lee-teh)— this is a hydration drink with added salt, sugars and electrolytes that help your body to re-hydrate. This is important when you have diarrhea as your body is constantly releasing fluids. Available at all pharmacies, choice of artificial flavors. Tastes awful, but it does the job! As an alternative, any Gatorade (European Name: Lucozade) drink will do the same job, and taste better.
There are lots of good places to visit in Mexico that are at altitude. When you mix heat of around 25-30 degrees centigrade, and altitude above a couple of thousand meters, you get an environment that can be very uncomfortable and very tiring for people not accustomed to it! Headaches, loss of appetite and the inability to sleep well are common symptoms. If you plan to visit places at high altitude, remember that it will take a day or two for your body to adjust. Plan plenty of rest breaks, drink plenty of water, take aspirin or Paracetamol if you get headaches and avoid spending too much time in the direct sunlight. After a day or two you can scale-up your activity schedule as your body adjusts to its new environment!
Mexico is very, very hot in places. If you’re walking around in the sunshine, take bottled water with you and keep hydrated at all times. A sun hat is a good investment—you can buy a good one just about anywhere in Mexico! Salt deficiency is another problem—as you sweat, your body excretes the salt it needs. Tiredness, headaches and muscle cramps can happen through salt deficiency. Add some salt to your food if you don’t normally do this at home; consider taking some salt tablets (you can buy these at any local pharmacy). If you get very dehydrated, go to a pharmacy and buy “Pedialyte”—this is a hydration drink with salt, sugars and electrolytes that help your body to re-hydrate.
Nasty cousin of the previous ailment; this condition is serious and can be fatal, so watch out! You can get heatstroke if you fail to follow the advice above and spend too long in the sunshine and without drinking anything. The intense heat and lack of liquid can cause your body’s natural heating and cooling system to malfunction, and your body temperature will rise to very dangerous levels, possibly fatal ones. General symptoms are severe headaches and no sweating, coupled with dizziness and vomiting and/or nausea. Hospitalization will be essential; but initially, getting out of the sun, cooled down and hydrated (if not unconscious) is a priority. You can cool a person down by removing their clothing and wrapping them in a wet towel or sheet.
Jet Lag occurs when you travel across several time zones. Your body’s clock is set to sleep and wake naturally at times set in the place where you live. Travel to a significantly different time zone, and your body clock gets all confused! Traveling from east to west (e.g. Europe to Mexico), you should experience very little jet lag, because you are in fact, gaining time. You’ll arrive late afternoon or evening, and should be tired at around 10 pm, just in time for an early night after a long journey. When you wake up, you should feel fine.
Traveling east from Mexico (e.g. Mexico to Europe) will be a different matter because you are losing time. When you get back to Europe, your body will want to sleep, but it’s morning in Europe and time to get up and about. Your body thinks it’s 2 am! If you are traveling east, try to get some sleep on the flight if you can so that you’ll arrive having had some rest already. Try NOT to go to sleep (however much you want to) when you arrive back—doing so could severely upset your biological clock for a couple of days. Resist the temptation to sleep until around 7 pm the evening of your arrival. When you wake up the next day, you should be fine!
Sunburn can cause serious health risks, immediate and long term—be sure to protect yourself in Mexico’s hot climates. Three main considerations for sun care in Mexico:
Sun Creams – Use high factor sun creams which are commensurate with your skin type: generally speaking, fairer people will need higher protection, but you should continue to protect with sun cream even after you develop a tan. You can also get hair conditioners with sun-block built-in to protect your scalp, if you want to.
Children – All young children need to take extra care in Mexico’s sun. Be sure to buy very high factor sun creams / sun block and insist that they wear it! Sun hats are a very good idea for protecting them, too.
Eyes and Lips – Protect your lips with a sun blocking lip cream; and get a good pair of sunglasses (with proper UV protection) to protect your eyes, especially if you will be near water, sand or snow, which reflect the sunlight very effectively.
Mild sunburn can be treated with Aloe Vera cream / spray, available at all pharmacies in Mexico.
In the winter months, between December and February, the air pollution in Mexico City can reach high levels and make it very uncomfortable to breathe in the capital. Air pollution levels in the capital can remain raised until the late spring, in May or June, when the rain season arrives and clears the air. Air pollution is particularly prevalent in the winter, as colder temperatures create a ‘thermal inversion’ which traps the pollutants, and prevents them from dispersing. As the winter months pass and temperatures warm, the pollutants disperse more easily. Rain and winds (March is traditionally a windy month) also help to clear the air. When air pollution levels exceed certain levels, the Mexico City government implements additional safety measures to reduce car use in the capital.
Common symptoms which arise when you’re breathing in excess amounts of polluted air include a sore throat, sinus irritations, headaches, and fatigue. If you are in Mexico City during a time when air pollution levels are elevated, try to limit your activities, remain indoors, avoid running or strenuous exercise and drink plenty of water.
Professional Health Care in Mexico
Most people that travel to Mexico—even those on adventure trips—never have a need to seek medical attention. But accidents can happen and people do get sick. If you do fall ill or hurt, Mexico has good doctors, dentists and hospitals who will be capable of treating you caringly and professionally.
If you are in a remote or rural area and fall very ill, or are in need of some specialist treatment, you may want to travel to a bigger town or city where more modern facilities will be available.
Your travel insurance should cover you for any medical bills you may have on your visit to Mexico. Connect to the Mexperience guide to Travel Insurance in Mexico for more details.
Local English-speaking doctors can be recommended by a good hotel. Most of the higher-quality hotels that cater for foreign visitors have a doctor on call at all times. Ask at reception.
To find an English-speaking dentist, contact your hotel (see Doctors, above)
Most medium and larger sized towns and cities have at least one hospital or clinic. In an emergency, an ambulance will take you to a nearby hospital for treatment. Your doctor may refer you to a local clinic or hospital, for example to get broken bones / sprains attended to.
Also See: Health Care in Mexico
24 Hour Pharmacies
Many of Mexico’s pharmacies are open 24 hours a day. Some close at around 10 pm, others stay open all night. In smaller towns, pharmacies take turns staying open on the “all night” shift—ask locally for details.
Prescription or No Prescription?
Although you can buy almost any medicine you ask for over the counter in Mexico, you should only buy medicines that you know are safe to take from a ‘self-prescription’ perspective (e.g. over-the-counter painkillers, antacids, etc). If you think you need something stronger we recommend you see a local doctor and get a prescription.
You’ll find that most medicine is quite inexpensive in Mexico in comparison the USA, Canada and Europe: keep your receipts for claims on Medical Insurance where appropriate.
Also See: Health Care in Mexico
The Right Cover for You!
You need to ensure that your medical insurance will pay for any medical requirements you and those traveling with you may encounter as a result of your activities in Mexico. Your medical policy back home may not cover you in Mexico; if you live in Europe and are used to free treatment at the point of delivery within EU Member States, take note that Mexico does not have any reciprocal agreements in place and you will NOT be covered without private medical insurance.
Connect to the Mexperience section about Travel Insurance in Mexico for full details.
While medical insurance provides certain coverages for you in Mexico, sometimes a fully-managed medical evacuation plan that transports you back to your doctors, your family, your healthcare network and your hospital of choice in your home country might be necessary.
Read our comprehensive Guide to Medical Evacuation from Mexico for full details about what it is, who needs it, and how to arrange coverage for your stay in Mexico.
If you plan to stay in Mexico for an extended period, either for a sabbatical, to live and work, or to retire, then you should consider your needs for longer term health care in Mexico.
Read our guide to Health and Health Care in Mexico, part of our extensive Living and Working guides, for full details.
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