Vaccinations and Staying Healthy in the Dominican Republic

Disease and natural disasters can be an issue in the Dominican Republic. Find out how to avoid getting sick and stay safe in the Dominican Republic with these tips from our travel safety expert.

Fruit for sale in Santa Bárbara De Samaná, Dominican Republic Photo © Getty Images/Yisel Gonzalez / EyeEm

Being located near the Tropic of Cancer, the weather in the Dominican Republic is tropical and warm all year around, with a dry winter and a five month wet season. Some folk call it the "endless summer".

But it is this tropical climate which allows for mosquito borne and other infectious diseases to flourish which can really put a dampener on your travels.

What vaccinations should I get for the Dominican Republic?

Several serious illnesses abound in the Dominican Republic. Cholera, transmitted via contaminated food and water, outbreaks frequently in the country. In 2016, 15 people died and 679 cases were confirmed. Symptoms include dehydration, vomiting and diarrhoea, which left untreated can be fatal. Sometimes those infected exhibit no or mild symptoms.

There is an oral vaccine available for Cholera, but while most travelers are low risk with contracting the disease, it's still a good idea to practice good hygiene and food safety. 

Traveler's diarrhoea is also common, caused by viral or bacterial infections via contaminated water and food. Get a good dose of it and it can really put a dent in your holiday plans. Diarrhoea can result in ranging degrees of dehydration, fatigue, abdominal pain, cramps and nausea. Severe cases can see you spending time in hospital receiving IV hydration and medications.

Other diseases like Hepatitus A and Typhoid can also be found in the Dominican Republic. A vaccination is available for Hepatitis A.

Contaminated wood and water in the Dominican Republic

Given the country's tropical climate, staying hydrated is important. It is advised not to drink the local water despite the improvements made with water supplies and sanitation. Make sure you wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly and brush your teeth using treated or bottled water. When grabbing a meal, make sure it's more on the well done side to kill off any bacterial nasties and choose places which are busy.

And it goes without saying: Wash your hands! Always carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer, handy if hand washing facilities aren't available.

Seafood poisoning can also occur. Naturally occuring toxins such as ciguatera and scombroid are found in shellfish and tropical species of fish.  If you suspect you have food poisoning, seek medical treatment immediately. If left untreated, ciguatera poisoning can result in disability and potentially death.

Mosquito and animal borne diseases

Malaria lurks and is most prevalent near the Haitian border. Only occasional outbreaks have occurred.

The large and varied insect population in the Dominican Republic can carry diseases like Dengue fever, a mosquito-borne infection that produces fevers, body aches all over and rash.

Other mosquito borne disease present in the Dominican Republic include Chikungunya, West Nile Virus and Zika Virus, which is widespread. These diseases are easily spread especially during the hotter months of the year (May to November).

Prevention is better than spending time laid up, feeling like death warmed up. Wear long, light clothing and apply a DEET based repellent. At night, sleep under a mosquito net. Limit the use of perfumes and lotions.

More than 550 cases of rabies in animals have also been reported since 2009. This may be due in part to the population of wild dogs on the island, which, fortunately, mostly avoid humans. If you plan to be heading out of the town areas to hit up some adventure activities, it may be worth having the vaccine before you travel.

There are also lice, gnats and sand flies transporting diseases like leishmaniasis, also called “flesh-eating disease.“ Typhus, filariasis and oropouche virus are other fun ailments you can get if you come in contact with a bug. Never forget your insect repellant wherever you go.

Other creepy crawlies on the island include tarantulas, which can appear in woodsy areas. Sea urchins can also crop up on the beach and prove painful to step on.  

Person to person transmitted diseases

The country has one of the higher global rates of HIV and AIDS infections with 1 in 50 adults affected, which is about three times more than the United States.

If you need medical treatment, make sure the facility and equipment is sanitized. Hospital and medical clinic standards in the more touristy locations tend to be good however they will ask for cash payments regardless of whether you have travel insurance or not.

Hepatitis B is also transmitted via blood and other body fluids. Always use safe sex practices. Those at risk of exposure to Hepatitis B should consider getting vaccinated.

Tuberculosis is present in the Domincan Republic however the risk to travelers is low.

Natural hazards and disasters

The Dominican Republic is prone to hurricanes and earthquakes. The hurricane season usually runs from June to November. Flash floods and landslides are aftereffects of such a disaster.

In 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria passed by the country. Thankfully there was minimal damage done, with most tourist areas remaining unscathed.

The wet season can also cause to flash flooding. The Dominican Republic's wet season varies depending on location, on the north coast it runs from November to January and for the rest of the country it's May to November.

Power outages occur frequently throughout the Dominican Republic, sometimes as a result of severe weather. Looting and petty crime can increase during these periods.

The water can also be dangerous to swim in, with tourists reporting strong currents and large waves. Anything involving rafting, swimming near waterfalls or cliff diving after a heavy rain is very hazardous. An American couple, protected by helmets and life jackets, died at Charcos/Damajagua waterfalls in 2009 during flooding that occurred after heavy rains.

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