We are going to the Philippines in two weeks for a three-week stay. Will we need any special preventive medications or vaccinations to visit the island resorts of Boracay Island and Palawan? Should we obtain medical insurance, since we are both on Medicare?
Your instinct to prevent a potential medical crisis through an abundance of caution is admirable. However, it is important to note that urban areas in the Philippines are generally considered to be free of health risks. But there are a few things to watch out for, like dengue fever, which is a risk throughout the country, and malaria, which can sometimes be found in some low-altitude rural areas.
There are no special vaccination certificates required to enter the Philippines, unless you are coming from an area infected with yellow fever. However, the following jabs are recommended: hepatitis A and B, typhoid, yellow fever, measles, mumps, rubella, and tetanus-diphtheria.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends that travelers see a health care provider who specializes in travel medicine at least four to six weeks before their trip. This allows time for vaccines to take effect and to start taking anti-malarial pills if required. You can find one near you by visiting the CDC Web site.
The best way to avoid both malaria and dengue fever is to avoid mosquito bites. Use insect repellent and sleep under a mosquito net if possible. Drinking tap water is not the safest option in the Philippines, and ice in drinks should be avoided, since there is also a countrywide risk for cholera. When staying in more remote, coastal areas, be cautious of the highly venomous sea snakes, since anti-venom may not be readily available.
The medical care provided in major cities is good, though expensive, so purchasing comprehensive medical insurance is advised for all travelers. It is not a well-known fact that Medicare/Medicaid programs do not provide coverage for hospital or medical expenses incurred when outside of the United States.
To compare travel insurance rates and plans try Insure My Trip. Read the fine print to make sure your desired policy includes medical coverage and/or medical evacuation coverage, if you think that might be necessary.