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Diseases potentially acquired by travel to Latin America and the Caribbean

Aimee Zaas, MD, MHS
Daniel J Sexton, MD
Section Editor
Karin Leder, MBBS, FRACP, PhD, MPH, DTMH
Deputy Editor
Elinor L Baron, MD, DTMH


The countries within Central America include Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. Climates are mostly tropical with abundant rain forests; rainy seasons generally last from April through November. Costa Rica contains mountainous regions as well as high-altitude plains.

The countries within the Caribbean include Anguilla, Antigua, Aruba, the Bahamas, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Curaçao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Montserrat, Puerto Rico, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Martin (French), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sint Maarten (Dutch), Trinidad and Tobago, and Turks and Caicos Islands. The region includes hundreds of islands. The tropical climate has variable rainfall dependent on elevation, and the topography ranges from flat terrain of non-volcanic origin to mountainous terrain.

The tropical zone of South America includes the countries of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana (previously known as British Guiana), Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela.

The temperate zone of South America includes the countries of Argentina, Chile, Falkland Islands, and Uruguay. Travelers to temperate regions are less likely to encounter infections found in the tropics. Visitors to high-altitude regions in the Andes may develop altitude sickness.


The largest contemporary experience in travel-related disease in developing countries comes from GeoSentinel, the global surveillance network of the International Society of Travel Medicine and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [1-5]. Since GeoSentinel's inception in 1995, it has grown to include 53 reporting sites in 24 countries on 6 continents with about 170,000 patient records collected. The GeoSentinel report was updated in 2013, spanning 1997 to 2011 [4]. This report encompasses data on 141,789 patients with confirmed or possible travel-related illness. It has been estimated that up to 8 percent of travelers to developing countries are ill enough to seek healthcare while abroad or after returning home. Travelers evaluated in the United States upon return were more likely to contract travel-related illness in Central or South America than travelers evaluated in Europe.

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Jan 18, 2016.
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