Water sanitation is a constant problem across the island, and you should never drink water from the tap in the Dominican Republic. Many travelers choose to brush their teeth with bottled water, which is a reasonable precaution. Reports of food-borne illnesses in the Dominican Republic are down, primarily as a direct result of the Cristal program of food safety; look for resorts and restaurants with a Cristal certificate to indicate that the current food-safety procedures are followed. At most upscale resorts and restaurants, ice is made from purified water, and drinking water served to you is either bottled or purified (insist on bottled water if you're concerned). If you have a stomach ailment, see a physician immediately. If, for instance, you ingest some malignant creature in tainted food, getting tested right away and going on antibiotics can prevent the parasites reproducing and making you sicker. Stray dogs and cats can be a problem; do not pet or feed these animals. If you are bitten or scratched, attend to the wound immediately. Do not hesitate to see a doctor if infection is evident.
Sexually transmitted diseases such as Hepatitis B and AIDS (known as SIDA in the Dominican Republic) are prevalent among the local prostitutes, yet another reason why it is unwise to choose the Dominican Republic for a sex-tourism vacation. Certainly, men should always use a latex condom, and women should insist that their local sex partners use a condom. Because the quality of condoms in the Dominican Republic can be questionable, you should always bring some from home.
Most often, however, the worst malady that tourists are affected by is bad sunburn. Be smart, and protect your skin. Wear a hat, visor, or cap, and apply sunscreen (SPF 30 and up) on your body and face (especially your nose and ears). Reapply lotion after swimming. As for lying on the chaise getting that tan, avoid acting like a mad Englishmen and stay out of the noonday sun. Most markets and pharmacies sell sunscreen, but expect to pay twice what you would pay at home, and that's often for a local brand.
Large resorts will have a medical clinic on-site. You'll have to pay a fee (about $65) to use the services of the physician, but if you have travel medical insurance, you can often have this amount reimbursed. Medications can be expensive, because they are often imported from the United States. If you have a more serious issue, you'll find private clinics and hospitals in the capital and most major tourist areas. You'll have to pay for services up front, but your medical insurance (or travel medical insurance) may reimburse you for out-of-pocket expenses. Some private clinics accept credit cards.
Mosquito coils are available in supermarkets, but you'll only need those if you're renting a house. Do buy your mosquito repellent (with DEET) before you leave home; the same major U.S. brands are sold in the Dominican Republic, but you'll pay double the price. It's important to protect yourself from mosquitoes and the illnesses they can carry. If you do get a mosquito bite, do what the locals do and rub a fresh lime on it to take out the itch.
Medical Insurance and Assistance
Consider buying trip insurance with medical-only coverage. Neither Medicare nor some private insurers cover medical expenses anywhere outside the United States. Medical-only policies typically reimburse you for medical care (excluding that related to preexisting conditions) and hospitalization abroad, and provide for evacuation. You still have to pay the bills and await reimbursement from the insurer, though.
Another option is to sign up with a medical-evacuation assistance company. A membership in one of these companies gets you doctor referrals, emergency evacuation or repatriation, 24-hour hotlines for medical consultation, and other assistance. International SOS Assistance Emergency and AirMed International provide evacuation services and medical referrals. MedjetAssist offers medical evacuation.
Medical Assistance Companies
AirMed International (www.airmed.com.)
International Medical Group (800/628–4664. www.imglobal.com.)
International SOS (www.internationalsos.com.)
Wallach & Company (800/237–6615 or 540/687–3166. www.wallach.com.)
Shots and Immunizations
At this writing, there are no required immunizations for adults or children traveling to the Dominican Republic.
Especially after heavy tropical storms or hurricanes, dengue fever has been reported, and in recent years more and more cases have been diagnosed. Unlike most others, the black aedes mosquitoes that carry dengue do their biting during the day. To ward them off, wear long sleeves, socks, and shoes, and apply a strong repellent containing DEET to exposed areas. Malaria has also been reported in the Dominican Republic after hurricanes, but at this writing there was no current malaria alert from the CDC regarding the Dominican Republic. Some years back, avian or bird flu was reported in certain areas of the Dominican Republic (it was associated with fighting cocks), but there have not been any new incidents.
World Health Organization (www.who.int.)
You can find the usual over-the-counter medications in farmacias (pharmacies), in some supermercados (supermarkets), and even some essentials in the local colmados (small grocery stores). Look for the discount store California, which is the Dominican equivalent to Wal-Mart. One is on Calle Conde in Santo Domingo's Colonial Zone.
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