Do I Need Special Vaccinations to Travel and Live in Panama?

Panama has diverse attractions to see from modern buildings to beautiful beaches and tropical rainforests. With so much nature to see and immerse into, there’s that huge risk of getting exotic diseases or infections. Visiting Panama’s forests is not as light as heading to the beaches or the parks. There, you are at risk of being bitten by some unfamiliar insects or dipping your feet into something unfriendly. 

Panama doesn’t require any vaccinations, although there are highly recommended ones such as typhoid, rabies, hepatitis A & B, and yellow fever. You don’t really need to get vaccinated if you’re staying mostly in the city anyway. However, if you’re exploring the Darien and other wilder areas, you should definitely see your doctor ahead of your trip to get immunization from the common infectious diseases in Panama’s jungles.

Below, we discuss these suggested vaccinations and the common infectious diseases in Panama.

What Are The Recommended Vaccinations to Get Before Traveling to Panama?

It may be a cliche but we’re talking about your health here, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you’re heading to the infamous Darien Gap and other similar damp areas, you can’t risk getting there without any preventive measures. Some of you might think that these are all just additional expenses to add to your trip, but that’s the price of a fun adventure. 

Hepatitis A& B, typhoid, yellow fever, rabies, tetanus-diphtheria, measles, and chickenpox are among the most common vaccinations given to travelers visiting Panama. It’s wise to know exactly what you’re asking your doctor to inject to you, so here are the guidelines about the vaccinations one must get when traveling to Panama’s rainforests:

Hepatitis A & B

Doctors recommend all travelers to get hepatitis A & B vaccinations. Those who travel long term and are likely to get in close contact with the local population are especially urged to get hepatitis B immunization. You’ll have to get 1 dose of the hepatitis A shot before the trip and a booster 6-12 months later. 

Be prepared for the possible side effects such as soreness at the injection area, body aches, and headaches. For hepatitis B, it’s ideal to get 3 doses over a 6-month period. The side effects are soreness at the injection site and possibly even low-grade fever. It’s best to get both vaccines to be sure.

Typhoid

If you hate needles, you’ll love the typhoid vaccination. All you need is to take 4 capsules by mouth; 1 taken every other day. This is highly recommended to all travelers as you can easily acquire the disease from food and water. The oral vaccination lasts up to 5 years. Take note that you should also keep the capsules in the refrigerator. 

You can also get shots for typhoid, but it will only last for 2 years. That’s why oral vaccination is still more commonly administered. However, the prices for the two types may have a huge gap. If you’re not planning on touring the rainforests of Panama for 5 years, it might be worth inquiring if the shot option is cheaper. 

Yellow Fever

green virus under a microscope

Yellow Fever vaccination is specifically recommended for all travelers over 9 months old heading to mainland areas and east of the Panama Canal. All you need is a dose of this vaccination to immunize you for a full decade. Headaches and body aches are the worst side effects you’d ever get. 

Getting a yellow fever vaccine is very practical as there are countries or regions where they require it. In that case, you would have to request an International Certificate of Vaccination or the yellow booklet. It’s mandatory in several African countries to have the yellow booklet before you’re allowed to enter. 

Rabies

You can’t visit any of Panama’s forests without being backed by a rabies vaccine. You’ll have no quick medical assistance available in those regions and you are definitely in close contact with all sorts of animals. You just need 3 doses over a 3 to 4-week period. You might deal with mild side effects like headaches, body aches, and soreness at the injection site. 

Tetanus-Diphtheria

For outdoorsy travelers, you definitely can’t miss a shot of this. You only need 1 dose or 1 adult booster of pertussis that lasts 10 years. Soreness at the injection site is nothing compared to the security this shot will give you, especially when you’re out trying different adrenaline-pumping activities in different parts of Panama. 

Measles

There’s definitely a small risk of catching measles if you’re visiting Panama or any country for that matter. However, you’ll never know when an outbreak might just take place. If you were born after 1957, you definitely need a measles shot; 1 dose or 1-time adult booster. Watch out for allergic reactions, joint pains, fever, and rash as likely side effects.

Chicken Pox

Haven’t had chickenpox yet? That’s enough reason to get the vaccine. You don’t want to catch the disease in a foreign country where you’re not familiar with the local healthcare. 1 dose is enough to keep you immunized from this airborne virus. Expect the same measles shot side effects. 

For full precaution, make sure you have travel insurance that covers health-related issues such as the ones mentioned. Getting vaccinated and insured will definitely make your rainforest experience a lot more fun. 

What Are the Common Infectious Diseases in Panama?

infectious virus

You already know what vaccines to get and how to get them. Still, you don’t know how the symptoms, how they are spread or caught, where you’re most likely to get them, and much other in-depth information about the disease. Panama has long been stereotyped as a country full of deadly tropical diseases, and no clarifications have been made about those possible myths and exaggerations. 

One of the most important things to do before visiting Panama is knowing the facts behind general assumptions about the situation in the country. You don’t want unnecessary paranoia to ruin your highly anticipated getaway. Below, we enlighten you with the truth about the common infectious diseases in Panama. 

Dengue Fever

Also known as the breakbone fever, Dengue is a viral infection transmitted by mosquitoes that breed in standing water. It is common in densely populated areas or any damp environment where mosquitoes can grow. The symptoms of this fever are muscle aches, fever, headaches, nausea, joint pains, vomiting, or even some rash. 

Most cases can be resolved in a few days as long as the symptoms are immediately reported to a doctor. You’ll be prescribed analgesics and asked to drink plenty of fluids. You’ll have to be confined in the hospital for severe cases in which Panama has some recent cases.

Yellow Fever

Yellow fever is also a viral infection carried by mosquitoes, especially in forested areas. The symptoms are flu-like such as fever, chills, headache, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, and a backache. The second, toxic phase of this fever can lead to death. Vaccination is highly recommended for those traveling Darien, Guna Yula, and Chepo where the yellow fever risk is high.

Hepatitis A & B

The reason why hepatitis A is recommended for all travelers is due to how you can acquire it from contaminated water, food, or ice. It is a viral infection that targets the liver and causes severe damage. The symptoms are fever, malaise, jaundice, vomiting, nausea, and abdominal pain. There is no treatment for this disease, so vaccination is your only life-saver.

Hepatitis B is also a liver infection that is usually caught through exposure to infected blood, sexual contact, blood transfusions, and contaminated needles. Getting the vaccine establishes full immunity, and you can assure it’s safe as well. 

Rabies

In Panama, the main transmitters of rabies are vampire bats that are found in deep rural areas. Still, if you are bitten by any animal, you should immediately wash the wounds thoroughly and go to a doctor to see if you need any other special treatment. If you’re visiting the wild areas of Panama, you can’t miss a rabies vaccine. 

Panama does not have immunoglobulin that unvaccinated bite victims need right away. You’d need to be flown out of the country just to treat a rabies bite if you don’t have the vaccine. 

Leishmaniasis

This disease occurs in Panama’s rural and forested areas, especially in the eastern and south-central regions. It is transmitted by sand flies. Once you’ve caught it, you’ll have slow-growing ulcers on your body. It’s best to protect yourself from these flies the same way you’d protect yourself from mosquitoes. Use fine-size mesh to cover your bed when sleeping in rural areas.

Typhoid

You can get typhoid if you ingest food or water that’s contaminated by Salmonella typhi. The primary symptom is fever, followed by headache, malaise, dizziness, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain, and muscle aches. Constipation or diarrhea may also be experienced. The complications this disease causes are bleeding, confusion, delirium, intestinal perforation, and the rare coma. 

Malaria

Malaria is another mosquito-transmitted disease. Once bitten by these particular mosquitoes, you’ll experience high-spiking fevers, chills, headache, sweats, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, and body aches. Severe cases of malaria may lead to confusion, seizures, coma, and even death. There are malaria pills handed out in rural areas in the eastern provinces of the Panama Canal and Ngöbe-Buglé Comarca.

Other expat-populated areas like Bocas del Toro and Colon have also had cases of malaria. Make sure to protect yourself against mosquitoes. It’s the only best prevention you can take. Be mindful that malaria symptoms also kick in six months after being bitten, so immediately consult a doctor if you develop a suspicious fever.

Zika

Panama has a history of Zika virus transmission. Although there are no current outbreaks reported, there’s also limited data available to deliver a clear status about the existence of Zika in the country. The best preventive measure here is to observe anti-mosquito bite practices. The virus is transmitted by infected Aedes species mosquito. The symptoms of the disease are fever, joint pain, rash, and conjunctivitis.

Plenty of victims even get mild illness with symptoms that can last for several days to a week. Zika can cause brain damage to infants, so pregnant women should be extra careful in visiting certain parts of Panama outside the capital. There is no vaccine or treatment for this disease, so extreme mosquito preventions must be practiced. 

Traveler’s Diarrhea

Avoid untreated tap water, uncooked or unpeeled fruits and, vegetables, and street foods to prevent traveler’s diarrhea. If ever you develop diarrhea, keep yourself hydrated and consume lots of salt and sugar. If you start having more than 4 or 5 loose stools, consult your doctor for antibiotics and antidiarrheal prescriptions. If your diarrhea gets bloody or lasts for more than 3 days and followed by fever or chills, immediately seek medical help.

Can You Drink Tap Water in Panama?

water of the sink

Many common infectious diseases in Panama are acquired from water or food. However, it’s not fun to assume that every meal or water you encounter is a red flag. Panama’s water supply is not at all as bad as what you’re probably imagining. As a matter of fact, the country hardly has issues with water-related diseases in major towns.

In Panama City, tap water is safe to drink as is the water in most parts of the country.  Still, it’s wiser to buy bottled water or purify your own water in places like Bocas del Toro and Guna Yala. You can purify your own water through one-minute boiling, disinfecting water with iodine pills, and putting a 2% tincture of iodine to a liter of water (5 drops to clear water, double for cloudy water). Leave it to stand for 30 minutes and longer if the water is cold.

Conclusion

Getting the recommended vaccines above are general suggestions for travelers going to different destinations. It’s just that Panama’s jungles are high-risk when it comes to those diseases. It’s unfortunate, however, that there aren’t immunization shots for the many mosquito-related diseases in Panama. These diseases are only common in rural and forested areas, though. If you’re staying in the city and other major beach communities or highland towns, you don’t have anything to worry about. 

Matt Romero

I’m Matthew Romero, one of the guys behind PanamaLifeInsider.com I am incredibly passionate about Panama, its beautiful territory, and all the incredible opportunities which offer to people coming here from all over the world both either visiting and settling. In this blog, I decided to share my passion with you!

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