A destination that has always been on my wish list is Puerto Rico. It has beautiful people, captivating beaches, great food and the shops in Old San Juan are quaint and inviting. Experiencing my wish for the past 10 days has been all that I envisioned except one thing.
After five days of experiencing our present surroundings, we contemplated spending time engaging in adventuresome activities. I noticed that the tour desk at the Hotel we were staying advertised tours to the rain forest. The rain forest was quite a distance drive and isolated within an area high up in the mountains. It occurred to me that maybe it could be a health risk since the forest is home to many parasites, snakes and other dangers not made known to unsuspected human visitors. Due to my nursing instincts, my husband and I decided not to take any tours away from the area where we were staying. This turned out to be a very good decision based upon a subsequent encounter.
While we were having diner across the street from the Hotel, our waiter introduced himself as an American from the states who just graduated from college and came to Puerto Rico to be with his brother and sister who have been living in Puerto Rico for the past few years. He went on to explain that he was interested in going to graduate school in Puerto Rico to study epidemiology which in layman’s terms is the study of the occurrence of disease in well-defined populations. He explained that he read that there is a high incidence of malaria-like disease in the more remote areas of Puerto Rico. The opportunity to combine his studies with helping the island’s population was motivating him to stay and explore the demographics of this issue.
Upon our return home to the US, I researched some information about the incidence of malaria and malaria-like diseases and found out something that everyone who travels to tropical areas should know about. The malaria-like infection is known as Dengue Fever or Dengue Infection and is endemic (prevalent) in Puerto Rico (www.cdc.gov). Currently, there is not a vaccine to prevent this infection. The CDC reported that there were 2 confirmed cases reported in Dade County, Florida back in October 2011.
This infection is caused by a mosquito bite. Initial symptoms are a sudden high fever up to 104 degrees Farenheit or higher, a flat rash 2-5 days after the fever turning into a raised rash that looks like measles. Fatigue, headache behind the eyes, joint and muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, nausea and vomiting are also other symptoms that may occur (www.ncbi.nim.nih.gov).
The point of sharing this with you is to make you aware of researching before you go on any trips in order to avoid getting sick through exposure to parasites or elements within an environment that can harm you. Even trips within the US to areas that have undergone floods in the past have the potential to breed species of bugs that might not have been indigenous to that area in the past. When I think about Dade County, Florida, and the discovery of Dengue Fever within our country, it compels me to make everyone aware of the importance of implementing precautions.
The best resource to use is the Center for Disease Control website for knowing about up-to-date information. Stay well everyone! e-Nurse Femtique Judith