Health and Hygiene Travel Tips For Mexico

Can you drink the local water? How do you avoid Montezuma's Revenge? Find out how to stay healthy while traveling in Mexico with these tips.

Photo © GettyImages/Linka A Odom

Vaccinations for Mexico

The following vaccinations are recommended for travelers to Mexico:

  • Typhoid
  • Hepatitis A
  • Rabies (Recommended for travelers who plan to spend extended travel time out in rural locations, involved with activities or volunteering where animal bite is a risk.)

Don't forget to check that you're up to date with the following routine vaccinations: tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella and polio.

Yellow fever isn't present in Mexico however it's endemic in many other countries within Latin America so if you are arriving into Mexico from a yellow fever endemic country, you will need proof of vaccination. 

Medical Treatment in Mexico

Medical care tends to be of a good standard in the major cities with both public and private hospitals available. Like in most countries, the public hospitals tend to be the busiest so you may want to visit a private clinic or hospital to get quicker treatment. You're also more likely to encounter a doctor who speaks English. Healthcare out in rural locations is of a basic standard, so it's a good idea to take a first aid kit with you. Pharmacies are available in towns and cities all around Mexico.

If you need to take medications while you travel, it's best to bring what you need for the trip along with a doctor's letter outlining use and dosage. Some medications e.g painkillers which may be considered legal back home may be illegal in Mexico. 

Mosquito Borne Diseases

Malaria

The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT) reports that malaria is present in the following states of Mexico:

  • Pacific Coast - Sonora, Sinaloa, Chihuahua, Durango and Narayit
  • Southern Mexico - Chiapas, Campeche and Tabasco.

Transmitted via mosquito bite, it's vital travelers take precautions to avoid contracting this disease including anti-malarials. If you choose to take them, chat with your travel doctor first to see which ones are best for the destination you are traveling to.

Dengue Fever

Dengue fever is endemic in the following Mexican states: Tabasco, Jalisco, Guanajuato and Quintana Roo, with increased risk along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts including Baja California. Peak transmission time occurs during the rainy season (July to October). This disease is transmitted by mosquitos between dawn and dusk, thriving in locations where water is present and poor sanitation.

Travelers must protect themselves from being bitten to avoid contracting this disease. Should you start to feel unwell, seek medical help immediately as left untreated, dengue fever can evolve into dengue hemorragic fever which is a life threatening condition.

Zika Virus

There is a continued risk of zika virus in Mexico, transmitted by mosquitos during the day time. Travelers need to take measures to prevent bites as there is no vaccination available. Pregnant women are strongly advised not to travel to Mexico due to the risk the virus presents to an unborn child such as physical and mental development issues, plus neurological complications.

Chikungunya

Related to Ross River Fever, chikungunya is spread by the two mosquito species which also spread dengue fever. Those infected experience joint pain, fever, skin rash, headache and fatigue. So if you get some unusually sore joints - It's advised to seek medical attention.

Can I Drink Local Water in Mexico?

Water treatment and filtration systems have improved in some parts of Mexico over the years, with many resorts and major tourist spots like Mexico City, Monterrey and Cancun claiming water is safe straight from the tap. If you don't feel comfortable consuming it, you will need to make sure your water is boiled or treated especially if you are out traveling in rural locations.

It's easy to forget while on vacation the many things cleaned or prepared with water -- ice, salad, pasta etc. You also need to be careful when brushing your teeth.

Montezuma's Revenge

Travel diarrhea aka Montezuma's Revenge can literally put a cramp in your travels and your stomach. However, there are ways you can avoid being stuck riding the porcelain bus.

Food stalls are common throughout Mexico, even in the rural areas, where families make a living selling homemade cooking. Some food is prepared safely and kept well, but watch out for hot foods that aren't actually hot and anything that looks like it's been sitting uncovered for a while. Always eat at spots where the food is cooked on the spot and has a high turnover.

Avoid buffet-style restaurants where the food may be prepared in a questionable way or left to sit out all day. For more handy tips, check out our article on street food safety.

It goes without saying but always wash your hands before eating (use an antibacterial gel if running water and soap isn't available).

If you do end up sick, often it's a case of just riding it out. Read our article on what to do should you end up with a dose of traveler's diarrhea. 

Food and Water Borne Diseases

Hepatitis A and typhoid are both present in Mexico. As you would to avoid traveler's diarrhea, always take precautions when eating and drinking such as:

  • Making sure food (particuarly meat) is cooked thoroughly. Aside from the hep A and typhoid risk, there have been reports of roundworm and hook worm infections in Mexico
  • Eating fruits and vegetables you can wash and peel yourself
  • Avoiding ice cubes and icy drinks
  • Avoid drinking the local tap water unless it's been declared safe
  • Always practise good hygiene while traveling.

Other Health Concerns

Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness can be harmful or life threatening. This condition can affect anyone, even the very physically fit if precautions are not taken before ascending in high altitude areas. Those who have had altitude sickness before, who exercise or drink alcohol before adjusting (acclimatizing) to the altitude, or who have health problems that affect breathing are most at risk.

Symptoms can range from headaches, vomiting, lethargy and lack of coordination to more serious signs such as increased heart rate, severe disorientation and coughing due to fluid on the lungs.

If you plan to hike at altitude in Mexico you should see your doctor prior to travel and get advice specific to you and your situation.

Chagas Disease

Also known as American Trypanosomiasis, this parastic disease is passed on via the feces of the triatomine or “kissing bugs” via contaminated food and water, or by a scratch or wound. These bugs are generally found living in poorly-built dwellings. While the risk to travelers is low, the risk does increase in rural locations. It's best to sleep under a bed net to avoid being bitten.

IAMAT reports that chagas disease is present in the following states: Chiapas, Distrito Federal, Hidalgo, Guerrero, Jalisco, Morelos, Nayarit, Oaxaca, Puebla, Querétaro, Veracruz, Yucatán, and Zacatecas.

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1 Comment

  • Jan said

    I lived in Mexico for several years. In order for the boiling method to work, water must boil for 20 minutes. Go that reason, coffee and tea should be avoided unless you have confidence that it was boiled sufficiently.

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