We love the locals but not this guy
I have been living in Costa Rica for 20 years, and much of my time has been spent in the rivers, mountains, and beaches. During my time here in Costa Rica, I haven’t had any health conditions other than the normal issues you might find in any country. During these 20 years, I have been drinking tap water and living the local life.
Costa Rica is in the tropical zone just 8 degrees above the equator. The conditions make it one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. With biodiversity comes insects that might be carrying the cure for cancer and some insects that carry some not so welcoming things to share with the two-footed human foraging through the rainforest. Some of the diseases that can be transmitted range from zika, dengue, chikungunya, bot fly, and leishmaniasis.
As mentioned before, during my 20 years in Costa Rica, only one of the insect-transmitted illnesses above has I been a victim of. While any disease can be fatal when not treated correctly, none of the diseases mentioned above are fatal if treated accordingly. The insect that, after 20 years, finally decided to call my body home was the leishmaniasis parasite.
What is Leishmaniasis
Known locally as popolomollo, a sandfly carries leishmaniasis found deep in the rainforest below 2500ft. The disease is common among indigenous communities as it prefers very remote areas. While it is not common and doubtful that a tourist will contract leishmaniasis, it is still possible even if they visit remote areas.
The bite of a sand fly causes leishmaniasis, and you most likely won’t even feel it. Not only this, but the symptoms will not start until weeks or months after being infected. Leishmaniasis might cause swollen glands, but almost nobody gets ill to the point where they feel they need a day off work or a bedridden. The main cause of this disease is when ulcer-like wounds start t appear on your skin. They start as tiny scabs and grow outward in a circle. Each spot you see start to form is where a separate sand fly bit you.
There are two types of leishmaniasis, and they are divided into layman terms by old world tropics leishmaniasis and new world tropics leishmaniasis. Costa Rica and Americans make up the new world tropics and are home to much more mild leishmaniasis. The old world tropic parasite of leishmaniasis can travel to other parts of the body and even be fatal when left untreated. The new world version can leave huge scars when left untreated.
How is Leishmaniasis Treated in Costa Rica
If you start to notice a circle scab anywhere on your body weeks or months after visiting the back-country of Costa Rica, you should probably keep an eye on it. If it starts to grow, then you will want to visit a micro-biologist or dermatologist to have it examined. While having heard of leishmaniasis in medical school, most dermatologists in the US have never dealt with a case directly.
They will do a scrap of your arm and send it to a lab where a micro-biologist will look for your newfound friend under a microscope. If they find leishmaniasis, you will be given an antibiotic of no less than 20 days of a shot in the buttocks. Chances are, you will need another cycle of 20 to play it safe.