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Major Health Problems In Guatemala

While traveling, especially in developing countries, there is always the possibility of developing or catching a major health problem, especially in rural or remote areas. While relatively uncommon, the list below is of possible illnesses which can be contracted while traveling throughout Guatemala. Heed your doctor’s advice above all and come prepared!

Dengue Fever

In recent years there have been growing reports of Dengue Fever in Guatemala. While it is not a great threat, mosquito-borne diseases are a possibility and it is recommended to dress in full coverage and wear proper repellent to dramatically reduce the risk.


This digestive illness is the far more serious version of traveler’s diarrhea. It involves mucus and blood in one’s feces, and is contracted most often from drinking, or eating foods washed with, untreated and unsanitary water. This water carries micro-organisms, or parasites, which destroy the intestinal lining and cause bacterial infections in the system. Symptoms of dysentery include excessive bowel movements and vomiting. The best way to remedy dysentery is by oral rehydration therapy given in proper medical facilities.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a severe and infectious disease of the liver, caused by the ingestion of fecal matter, even microscopic amounts. Hepatitis A causes jaundice and liver inflammation, and while the disease usually lasts for a couple of weeks, it does not lead to chronic infection. If you are planning to visit Guatemala, you are required to get a vaccination against hepatitis.


While most of Guatemala is not at risk for malaria, the disease cannot be ruled out and proper precautions should be taken when traveling here. Rural areas, especially by the coasts, show reports of the mosquito-borne disease. Symptoms are flu-like, followed by exhaustion, fever, and at severe stages, a coma. Chloroquine is recommended as an antimalaira drug, however consult your doctor before leaving for any risk areas.


There are stray dogs throughout Guatemala that are, for the most part, harmless. However, many home-owners train guard dogs to attack trespassers, and other feral dogs can be dangerous. On long hikes in rural areas, always carry a walking stick to defend yourself if a dog starts to attack, and in the city don’t feed or antagonize strays. It is recommended to be pre-vaccinated for rabies, however in the case that you are attacked by a dog, and you were not vaccinated before your trip, rabies vaccinations should be available in major cities. Be sure to see a doctor immediately if you believe you were infected, whether or not you have had the vaccine.


This disease is caused by ingesting contaminated food and water, and symptoms include dangerously high fever, profuse sweating, and severe, but non-bloody, diarrhea. Wash your hands as frequently as possible, and try your best to eat food from restaurants with good reputations. Oral or injectable vaccinations are recommended by the World Health Organization, and should be taken before travel if you are planning to be in Central America for an extended period of time (six months or more). The injection needs boosting every 3 years.

Yellow Fever

This mosquito-borne disease is endemic to many parts of Central and South America, although it isn't much of a proble in Guatemala. If you plan to visit any of the endemic areas (mostly tropical places) within a year before traveling to Guatemala, you will most likely need to show proof of vaccination at some point; carry your vaccine certification along with your passport.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Guatemala: When To Go, When To Go, Media, Photography, Minor Health Problems In Guatemala, Communications, Town Overview and Pepián - an authentic Guatemalan dish.

By Eli Mangold
12 Aug 2010

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