Don't let the Zika Virus ruin your Costa Rica vacation; take the needed precautions and carry on!
With the U.S. media touting the dangers of the Zika virus in the run-up to the Olympics in Brazil this summer, travelers to Costa Rica could get the mistaken impression that there’s a Zika pandemic throughout the Americas. Nothing could be further from the truth. The World Health Organization and the World Tourism Organization issued a joint statement in February this year. At the time, they were not recommending any Zika-related trade or travel restrictions.
Costa Rican officials announced March 27 that there have been no new cases since early March. Two cases were reported Feb. 22 and only 12 cases have been confirmed since the beginning of the year—all in the canton (county) of Nicoya in northwestern Guanacaste. In addition, four of the 12 people infected contracted the virus during trips to Honduras, Colombia and Nicaragua. Testing has ruled out a number of suspected cases and healthcare professionals are vigilant.
Health officials have taken advantage of the dry season to inspect homes and eliminate potential mosquito breeding sites in stagnant water. The government’s proactive eradication efforts have included the Health Ministry, Social Security (responsible for national healthcare), municipal authorities and private companies. Vector control is an important consideration in Costa Rica’s tourism industry; insect-borne disease is bad for business. That means everyone has a stake in aggressive mosquito abatement practices.
Several companies sell clothing factory-treated with permethrin, a broad spectrum, non-systemic, synthetic pyrethroid that acts in the same way chrysanthemum flower extracts do. Registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency since 1979, permethrin is commonly used in mosquito abatement programs and has agricultural and food handling applications.
The EPA conducted health risk assessments in 2006 and 2009, including short and long-term cancer risk in adults, children and toddlers. Toddler evaluations also included studies of toddlers’ tendencies to chew on their clothing. All EPA assessments to date “resulted in risk estimates below … [the] level of concern.” The EPA initiated a third review in 2011; results are due in 2017.
Permethrin, sold under the Sawyer, Repel and Coleman brand names, is available online and from retailers such as REI, Wal-Mart and Walgreens for DIY application. As with all pesticides, follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
Permethrin-treated clothing only repels insects from the clothing. For more protection, select a repellent labeled for use on human skin, such as DEET and apply according to directions. When choosing a repellent, also consider a brand that deters chiggers, ticks and no see’ums, some of the other biting insects that prey on people.
For those who are more organic and eco conscious, there are a number of terrific, non-deet formula, “natural” repellants on the market and these work just as well, though do need to be applied more often throughout the day.
Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) is a natural, plant-based oil. It works as well at preventing mosquito bites as products that contain lower concentrations (6.65%) of DEET. If you decide to try OLE, be sure to get the insect repellent version and not the essential oil. They aren't the same. Keep in mind, though, that OLE should not be used in children under age 3.
Citronella oil, is another great repellant and some natural formulas utilize a blend of Citronella along with other essentials such as Rosemary, Clove, Sweet Orange, Rosalina, Cederwood, Lavender, Cinnamon and Eucalyptus, among others. These blends work great and smell good too! A blend of essential oils in a purified water base is safe to use on children and adults. You can even make your own- but some essentials should be left out for babies under 2!
Mosquitoes are a nuisance; while it pays to take precautions, don’t let mosquitoes keep you from enjoying your vacation in Costa Rica.