1. Wash Your Hands
I realize this sounds basic, but remarkably, how many people neglect it. The basic act of washing your hands is a key factor in infection management.
Hand hygiene is essential to avoid the advance of infection and can reduce your chances of diarrhea, vomiting, food poisoning, gastroenteritis, flu, norovirus, MRSA, or even hepatitis A.
Many travelers carry small bottles of hand gel, and these are good as a backup, but they aren’t a replacement for good old soap and water. Wherever possible, wash your hands under hot water for at least thirty seconds before and after eating and always after going to the lavatory.
2. Drink Bottled Water
When you can’t be sure of the purity of the local water, then you should avoid the local tap water. Even if locals drink it with no problems, your stomach may not have the right bacteria to protect you from becoming ill.
3. Protect Yourself Against the Sun
Sunburn can seriously ruin a good travel experience! I became badly sunburned years ago in Florida after snorkeling for too long and neglecting to reapply suntan lotion. It is not an event I wish to repeat! Current recommendations on sun protection claim that you should use a minimum of SPF 30 or higher.
Protecting yourself from the sun goes beyond getting a bad sunburn, though. You should also stay well hydrated in Cozumel and cover up with loose clothing and even a hat or scarf. If you don’t, then dehydration can set in quickly, and that can lead to more serious conditions such as exposure, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke, which if left unattended can become a medical emergency. It happens a lot more easily than many people think so be sensible, use sunscreen, cover-up, and stay hydrated.
4. Protect Yourself from Mosquito Bites
Mosquito bites are an absolute horror for any traveler. They will trouble you with severe and itchy welts, but at worst they can transmit a whole variety of diseases, such as dengue, and chikungunya.
Here in Cozumel, it is still a good idea to prevent mosquitoes from biting you in the first place, even if it is only to avoid the annoyance of painful bites. It should go without saying that the best thing you can do to protect yourself from being bitten is to use preventive measures:
a. Air-conditioned rooms are great for minimizing mosquito bites, as they are usually better sealed and less likely to let them in.
b. Cover up. Wearing proper attire is essential. Wear lightweight, loose cotton clothing that covers most of your skin, especially around peak exposure times and places, for example, near bodies of water or at twilight or after dark, the peak time for dengue-carrying mosquitoes to feed.
c. Sleep under permethrin-coated nets where necessary.
d. Always apply a good dose of 30–50% DEET spray and reapply it regularly. Some people prefer more natural alternatives, but these are usually clinically proven to have no effects on mosquitoes.
It is important to remember that none of these methods is foolproof. You can do everything right and still get bitten. My wife Silvia once caught dengue fever despite taking all the usual preventive measures, and it was one of the most unpleasant experiences of her life. However, you can always minimize your risks with the tips above.
These very simple steps will dramatically reduce your risk of getting ill on Cozumel, but they are often so simple that many people overlook them. Before you set off on your trip of a lifetime, take a moment to think about your health and prepare properly. That way you will enjoy your trip with peace of mind.
Remember that these are general health tips only, and other things can happen. Also, never leave home without comprehensive travel insurance. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!