In Nicaragua, you have to worry about malaria and dengue. It usually happens around winter because our winters are full of rain and you have to be mindful of not leaving any stagnant water because then there will be a lot of mosquitoes floating around. There are mosquitoes everywhere here during the wintertime.
Most foreigners get malaria because something happens with the red blood cells. It is almost as if, if you are native, you have some immunity, but if you are foreign, you are most likely to get it because you don’t have the built in immunity towards these diseases. You could get a malaria shot. I had malaria and it’s not so bad. (The malaria in Central American is not the same as the Malaria in Africa.)
I came here to Nicaragua when I was very young. I was seventeen, so I just toughed it out. I had malaria, I had dengue, and I just had zika. When you get malaria in Central America, pretty much it’s just a bad flu. Your body aches for a week and that’s about it. You do need to go to the doctor, though, because they have to make a diagnosis. What they do after that is pretty simple – they give you pain relievers and lots of fluids including Pedialite so you don’t dehydrate. The virus goes in and out of you for about 8 days. It didn’t have any lasting effect on me and I never heard of anybody who had a lasting effect from having malaria.
There are, however, other diseases that would give you a lasting effect, one of which is chikungunya. Chikungunya was the virus outbreak before zika came out. Just like dengue, chikungunya is a disease that is also transmitted by mosquitoes. When you contract chikungunya, you get a really bad flu, develop a rash on your body at some point, your extremities – hands, arms, legs, feet, ankles, and wrists get really swollen, and your joints hurt incredibly. One of the ladies who works for me had it. It lasts for about 10 days, depending on your immune system. The lady who works for me does not have an amazing immune system so she got hit really hard. She had lasting joint pain and it’s been going on forever. The doctor broke it down to us in a certain way. He told us that in the first phase, people with chikungunya get really sick for about 10 days. Then on the second phase, from 10 to 30 days, you get joint pain, they don’t feel good and get fatigued. The third phase, 30 days onwards, they still feel that joint pain and they might be more inclined to have Rheumatoid arthritis. My poor employee ended up in the third phase so she had a lot of joint pain and discomfort, and she gets tired, so we had to let her have breaks during the day. Sometimes it flares up and sometimes she is fine.
Another disease that is common in Central America is dengue. It is just another flu and is also transmitted by mosquitoes. Mosquitoes lay eggs in stagnant water so you always have to be mindful when it is rainy season to make sure that you have no potted plants that have water lingering in them and you have to make sure that there’s not water lingering in your laundry area. Most of the houses here in Nicaragua have laundry areas outside. They have little areas that have built-in washboards and there is an area where you can recollect water. You have to make sure that those are clean and dry if you don’t want to get sick. You can actually work around it. If you’re good about it, such as if you always use an insect repellant and make sure that you don’t leave any water sitting around, you won’t get sick. But when you do get dengue, it’s not the end of the world. It is just another bad flu and that’s it. Dengue is very similar to malaria except that you do get a rash as well and you get really high fevers. You don’t get swollen joints but you get body aches, which is why people call it the “bone breaker,” because it feels like your bones are cracking as you are in pain.
The thing that you want to be most careful about is to not get dengue if you already had malaria because you would be prone to get the hemorrhaging dengue, which is a more complicated strain of dengue. If you get this type of dengue, you could be in the hospital for a month. The nice thing about the hospitals here, especially the ones in the capital, Managua, is that they absolutely know what to do in order to tackle these diseases. I know people who had hemorrhaging dengue and they recovered fine.
Hikers along a waterfall and stream in Nicaragua, pictured.)