Generally, simple cases of diarrhea in the absence of other symptoms are nothing more serious than “traveler’s diarrhea.” If you do get a good case, your best bet is to let it pass naturally. Diarrhea is your body’s way of flushing out the bad stuff, so constipating medicines like Imodium A-D are not recommended, as they keep the bacteria (or whatever is causing your intestinal distress) within your system. Save the Imodium (or any other liquid glue) for emergency situations like long bus rides or a hot date. Most importantly, drink lots of water! Not replacing the fluids and electrolytes you are losing will make you feel much worse than you need to. If the diarrhea persists for more than 48 hours, is bloody, or is accompanied by a fever, see a health professional immediately. That said, know that all bodies react differently to the changes in diet, schedule, and stress that go along with traveling, and many visitors to Belize stay entirely regular and solid throughout their trips.
Pay attention to your symptoms: Diarrhea can also be a sign of amoebic (parasitic) or bacillic (bacterial) dysentery, both caused by some form of fecal-oral contamination. Often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and a mild fever, dysentery is easily confused with other diseases, so don’t try to self-diagnose. Stool-sample examinations are cheap, can be performed at most clinics and hospitals, and are your first step to getting better. Bacillic dysentery is treatable with antibiotics; amoebic is treated with one of a variety of drugs that kill off all the flora in your intestinal tract. Of these, Flagyl is the best known, but other non-FDA-approved treatments like tinidazole are commonly available, cheap, and effective. Do not drink alcohol with these drugs, and eat something like yogurt or acidophilus pills to refoliate your tummy.
By all official accounts, malaria is present in Belize, although you’ll be hard-pressed to find anybody—Belizean or expat—who has actually experienced or even heard of a case of it. Still, many travelers choose to take a weekly prophylaxis of chloroquine or its equivalent. The CDC specifically recommends travelers to Belize to use brand-name Aralen pills (500 mg for adults), although you should ask your doctor for the latest drug on the market. A small percentage of people have negative reactions to chloroquine, including nightmares, rashes, or hair loss. Alternative treatments are available, but the best method of all is to not get bitten by mosquitoes, which transmit the disease.
Dengue, or “bone-breaking fever,” is a flulike, mosquito-carried illness that will put a stop to your fun in Central America like a baseball bat to the head. Dengue’s occurrence is extremely low in Belize, but a couple dozen cases are still reported each year. There is no vaccine, but dengue’s effects can be successfully minimized with plenty of rest, Tylenol (for the fever and aches), and as much water and hydration salts as you can manage. Dengue itself is undetectable in a blood test, but a low platelet count indicates its presence. If you believe you have dengue, you should get a blood test as soon as possible, to make sure it’s not the hemorrhagic variety, which can be fatal if untreated.
This is a toxin occasionally found in large reef fish. It is not a common circumstance, but it is possible for grouper, snapper, and barracuda to carry this toxin. If after eating these fish you experience diarrhea, nausea, numbness, or heart arrhythmia, see a doctor immediately. The toxin is found in certain algae on reefs in all the tropical areas of the world. Fish do nibble on the coral, and if they happen to find this algae, over a period of time the toxin accumulates in their systems. The longer they live and the larger they get, the more probable it is they will carry the toxin, which is not destroyed when cooked.
There is moderate incidence of hepatitis B in Belize. Avoid contact with bodily fluids or bodily waste. Get vaccinated if you anticipate close contact with the local population or plan to reside in Central America for an extended period of time.
Get a rabies vaccination if you intend to spend a long time in Belize. Should you be bitten by an infected dog, rodent, or bat, immediately cleanse the wound with lots of soap, and get prompt medical attention.
Tuberculosis is spread by sneezing or coughing, and the infected person may not know he or she is a carrier. If you are planning to spend more than four weeks in Belize (or plan on spending time in the Belize jail), consider having a tuberculin skin test performed before and after visiting. Tuberculosis is a serious and possibly fatal disease but can be treated with several medications.
No cases of cholera have been reported in Belize since 2000.