Dengue, to Fear or Not to Fear?

The Scare.  A friend of mine, who is headed back down to Costa Rica, asked me about the dengue situation in Atenas because they had read that the cases in Atenas were sky high.  I was surprised about the question because I’ve only heard of a couple of cases recently.  I’m not sure exactly where my friend read this information, but after searching the internet, I did find an article about dengue in “La Prensa Libre” which publishes online and listed Atenas at the top in Costa Rica ( 

Time to put it all in context.  First, the way this article was reported was incredibly misleading.  Statistics can be used to influence people in many ways.  For the average person, who may not be professionals in economics, these stats without explanation or improperly stated can be alarming (which is probably the intent in the first place).  This specific article states that Atenas leads  with the highest percentage of cases for the first 31 weeks of the year 2016.  It reports that there are 3,134 patients.  But if you read closely, that number is per 100,000 inhabitants.  Since Atenas doesn’t have 100,000 inhabitants, but only around 15,000, the actual number of cases would be closer to 450.  Still terrible, but a truly different number.  Also, the director for the country states that at the beginning of the year, they were getting reports of 1000 cases/week (for the country, not Atenas), but since it was stated right after the statement about Atenas having the most cases, with a quick read, you might think he was talking about Atenas.  And he goes on to state that currently (August), he was at about 100 cases/week for the country.  We are now in November.

Fighting dengue.  Atenas had a large fumigation campaign several months ago.  It was recognized that mosquitos and dengue were a problem and addressed (although probably not totally eliminated).  But people are reading these statistics, now, in November, and are getting scared to come now. 

Dengue transmission.  Dengue and the other mosquito carried diseases are transmitted when one infected mosquito bites another person.  The distance that mosquitos travel is usually not that far (typically no more than 300 feet reported by, so it is the biggest problem between families and people living or working close to each other.  It’s also more common in the lower altitudes where more mosquitos thrive rather than up where it is cooler.

Symptoms of dengue.   Dengue is terrible.  I have seen true cases of dengue where people run high fevers for 5-7  days straight, are in extreme body pain, and break out in rashes with an extreme tiredness that can last for weeks.  Unfortunately, it seems that every time someone here has a fever, immediately it is proclaimed that the person has dengue.  Even if they get better in 48 hours and discount it, they already made the announcement in the community that they had dengue and that is what people remember.  Fact, the regular labs don’t do dengue exams.  Only the Ministry of Health can run a dengue exam which takes 1-2 weeks for the report to come back.  Therefore, no one waits for this report and instead, the doctors request blood exams for platelets counts which can be returned the same day.  The labs check the levels of platelets in the body and if they lower to an extreme amount, it is assumed to be dengue.  Regular viruses will also lower the platelets.  So only after multiple days of platelet testing and counting will a doctor declare that it APPEARS to be dengue.  Treatments for these viruses are the same with lots of liquids, medicine to control the fever, and rest.  Antibiotics do not work as these are viruses, not infections.   

So, what to take from this?  Be careful and a bit suspicious with health reports in unofficial news sources.  You need to check the source, understand the stats, and put it in context.  Atenas does have flair-ups with dengue, so use repellent or long sleeves to help prevent mosquito bites and but don’t give up your life just because of rumors or badly-stated statistics.  

Tina Newton is the co-owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate and has lived in Atenas for 17 years.  Feel free to contact her at with any questions, real estate related, or not.  Check out the website for current listings and the Facebook page for updates.  They look forward to helping you find the home of your dreams.  Names to Trust…Homes to Cherish.


Can You Save Money on Healthcare by Having Your Checkup Done in Costa Rica?

Ever wondered if you really can save money on healthcare by being in Costa Rica?  Here’s my experience so you can decide. 

This week, I signed up for my yearly mammogram and ultrasound and decided that at 45 years old (hush, don’t tell anyone), I should have a full checkup done while I was at it.  I have private insurance but the deductible is $1000 as I only plan on using it in true emergencies and I had wanted to keep costs down.  So, a general routine check up was not included in the overall coverage.  However, I felt it was important and I thought I would share those costs with you which I compared online with “Cost Helper Health” for average U.S. costs.  Your costs might vary and your insurance coverages would vary as well, of course.

First I went to a private doctor at Linea Vital where she did a thorough general exam including an EKG reading.  She requested that in addition to a complete blood work-up and urine test, that I have an ultrasound of my neck to check my thyroid and a complete abdomen ultrasound which would check from my heart all the way down to “you know where”.  The doctor’s appointment total was $65.  On the Cost Helper Health site, it says that an average non-insured person would pay $199 for a routine exam in the U.S.

Then, I went and had my mammogram done.  At the CIMA hospital, they combine the mammogram with a breast ultrasound for $140 which includes the result analysis.  Then, they did the throat and abdomen ultrasounds which were $120 each.  An “ouch” for my budget in total, but when I compared them on the Cost Helper Health site, I would have paid around $102 for mammogram and over $360 for each of the ultrasounds, for a whopping $1200 total in comparison to my $380.  Okay, not so bad.

Finally, I went and had my blood drawn at the local private clinic and peed in a cup.  Everything from thyroid levels, blood cell count, cholesterol, and more were measured for $150.  Based on the website again, the average for a full blood workup in the U.S. costs around $1500!!

So, my total out-of-pocket expense for everything came out to $595, a bit of a punch, but not enough to trigger my insurance and my family felt it was needed.  Looking at $2900 for the costs in the States, makes me glad I did it here.  Of course if you have insurance and most of those costs are covered, count yourself lucky, but even with a 20% co-pay, you would be paying $580, so we’re close to even.

Now, one more note, had I decided to go through the  Costa Rican public system, which I pay into, the blood tests could have been run for free (after hours of standing in line), but most of the ultrasounds would still have had to be done in a private clinic unless they had determined that something was truly wrong and it was a medical necessity.

I also discovered in my research into U.S. medical costs that these costs which are billed to uninsured patients are often less than what would be billed into the insurance companies, so it makes sense for insurance companies to be more willing to cover us with the costs here in Costa Rica rather than there, wouldn’t it?  By the way, if anyone wants to know which private insurance I carry here, I use IMG for their ex-pat coverage.  And no, they didn’t pay me to say that (maybe I should have asked).  Now I think I’ll just go and get me a $30 massage with my savings…

Feel free to add your own comparisons.  Tina is the owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate along with Cecilia Tristan and they are both available to answer your questions and make you feel more at home in Costa Rica.  Email at and check out the website at