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VACCINATION INFORMATION FOR THE GUATEMALA PROGRAM

Hello upcoming Guatemala travelers!

As you are all likely beginning to visit travel doctors and make a plan for vaccinations and medication, we wanted to take this opportunity to provide some additional information regarding malaria risk, rabies inoculation, and other vaccines that are recommended by the CDC for travel to Guatemala.

Dragons has no specific stipulations or requirements regarding vaccines and you should know that it is up to your discretion. We do, however, strongly recommend that students obtain a COVID vaccine prior to travel. We hope the following information from us can supplement info you’ve already received.

As a caveat, and in line with all of our literature, please consult your travel doctor for ALL medical recommendations. We do our best to provide clear information, but also recognize that we at Dragons are not medical professionals and cannot give specific medical advice.  Please also keep in mind that is is not uncommon for doctors to provide blanket prescriptions while not considering the specific details of their clients travels, so the information below can be used to inform those conversations. You can also refer to the Center for Disease Control’s travel page on Guatemala for additional information.

Mosquito-borne illness:

  • Yellow Fever: Yellow Fever is not considered a risk in Guatemala, and the vaccine is not necessary for this course unless you are travelling from a country at risk of Yellow Fever transmission.
  • Malaria: The CDC lists the following regarding malaria risk in Guatemala: “Areas with malaria: Rural areas only at altitudes <1,500 m (4,921 ft). None in Antigua, Guatemala City, or Lake Atitlán.” This summer the bulk of your itinerary will unfold in rural areas below 1,500 meters in altitude in the areas of Rio Dulce, the department of Petén, Rabinal in the department of Baja Verapaz, and Cobán in the department of Alta Verapaz. In our experience the risk of contracting malaria in this region of Guatemala is relatively low, but we can not rule out the risk of exposure.
  • Please note that many malaria prophylactics have side effects that should be considered before purchasing malaria medication. In addition, keep in mind that medications for malaria do not prevent you from contracting the disease, but they do lessen the associated symptoms.
  • Dengue: Dengue is present in tropical parts of Guatemala, including in areas the group will travel. While there is no vaccine to protect against dengue, we recommend that students travel with loose,  light-weight clothing (long sleeves and long pants) to protect against mosquitos. Mosquito repellant is readily available in-country, although natural brands may be more difficult to find.

Foodborne illness:

Two other vaccines that are recommended by the CDC for travel in Guatemala are Typhoid and Hepatitis A. Foodborne illness can be common in the region, and most of our students experience some gastrointestinal upset during their time in-country. Most of these cases are mild and resolve themselves on their own, but in some instances students need to be evaluated at a local clinic. The Typhoid and Hep A vaccines can help reduce the chances of more serious travellers’ diarrhea.

Rabies risk and pre-exposure inoculation: 

We would like to call your attention to the rabies pre-exposure inoculation. Please reference the inoculation information in your Course Preparation Manual for the following response:

Q: Should we get the pre-exposure for rabies?

A:The rabies vaccine is the treatment that we’re asked about most frequently and worth discussing as it relates to the ISOS insurance policy.There is risk of possible exposure to rabies on Dragons courses, typically through animal bites such as dogs. Each year we manage between 2-3 animal bites across all of our programs and 1000+ students.Treatment is quicker and more economical when a traveler has their pre-exposure vaccination, however, in all cases we will ensure that appropriate follow-up treatment is received to eliminate the possibility of contracting this fatal disease. Receiving the pre-exposure vaccine is an upfront cost but greatly eases the cost of care if one is possibly exposed to rabies. Forgoing the pre-exposure vaccination may require a more complicated and expensive treatment in the event of an animal bite.

Our experiences in Latin America have shown that dogs are a prevalent risk that we actively mitigate through training and other proactive measures. However, we have also learned that in the case of a dog bite, the HRIG vaccine recommended as part of routine post-exposure treatment for patients who do not have the pre-exposure vaccine is not readily available in most Latin American countries. Therefore, depending on the circumstances of the bite, students without the rabies pre-exposure inoculations would likely need to be evacuated to the US or another country where HRIG is available.

Please feel free to be in touch with us with further questions!

Sincerely,
Julianne Chandler and the Dragons Administration