You might want to skip this. I’m going to talk about poop.
Every piece of literature you read on Costa Rica makes two claims (some make many more, but these two are on every single list I’ve ever seen):
1. Costa Rica enjoys 95% literacy.
2. The water is safe to drink.
Number one is false. Not true in any way, shape or form. Ask anyone who has lived here more than six months and spends any length of time outside a casino.
If you mean by literate that a person can identify the letters of the alphabet and write their own name, well, ok, that’s true. Although, when I drive by public schools, even here in Gringolandia, I wonder how anyone learns a thing inside buildings in such disrepair. In the campo [KAHM-poh country], the school situation is downright desperate.
If you mean what UNESCO means: "Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning to enable an individual to achieve his or her goals, to develop his or her knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in the wider society." If you mean that, then we aren’t even close.
In the rush to escape to Costa Rica for a year, we believed what we
read. Why not? It was written everywhere. The truth is discouraging. Let’s face it: the way to a better quality of life is either education or incredible good luck. Neither of which is found in any great supply in Costa Rica’s public school system.
I don’t mean to be an uppity gringa. God knows I’m no poster child for the educated. I went to high school in KY, remember. Just the building was nicer. Half my class quit school to have a baby or work on the farm. I graduated with straight A’s after skipping at least a third of it to be drunk and stoned. Heck, I feel right at home here.
But let’s get back to poop and lie Number 2. (I did not plan that. Honest.) This lie is not such a whopper and may even be 100% true in the strictest sense. I mean, you won’t die if you drink the water. And from everything I know now, you most likely won’t even pick up a traveler. But even though I’ve asked everyone I know here, both personally and on the forums, read everything I can find online, I still can’t seem to get to the bottom of the parasite thing. (Ok, didn’t plan that one either. Serendipity working in my life.)
Since arriving, we’ve been hearing parasite talk. Not a lot of talk – who wants to talk about it? But it’s mentioned here and there, by friends, by expats on the CRL board. Apparently, most of the indigenous kids frequently have parasites. A few expats have had them. "No big deal," they said.
Here’s the interesting thing to me: most everyone I talked to takes preventive measures, a small dose of Albendazole
every six months. Just in case. The complete dose is 6 pills over 3 days, but for preventive measures, most people do only two pills twice a year. I researched the drug as best I could
online and it seems safe enough for a small twice a year dose. If a poison
can be safe.
When I first heard about getting parasites, I was TOTALLY creeped out. I ran right out and got four test kits, one for each of us. I stared at them in my bathroom for about three months (guess I wasn’t that creeped out) before making any attempt.
See that little tiny plastic container? You have to poop in that. You don’t get it out of the water, it has to go directly into
that little tiny container. Which actually looks big until you are trying to get it into place which is a really fun test of your agility
and exact working knowledge of your anatomy. I guess I’d get more
efficient over time.
You rush your specimen to a lab and get it tested for $8.
I tested negative that first time. Kind of a let down after all the
drama. That’s OK, really. Drama is its own reward.
A couple of friends have suggested more delicate ways of accomplishing the task with Saran Wrap… wish I’d thought of it. Plastic wrap or no, the thought of cajoling Hal, Mo and Ryan
into doing this every six months makes poison look downright
After more recent talk of parasites, after these last two years during which we could’ve cultivated an intestinal friend or two, I thought maybe we should take the meds. Just in case. I got four courses from my angel for $10 each. We each did all six pills. No side effects, didn’t even notice. I think I feel better, but I’m suggestive, so who really knows?
The whole parasite thing is really confusing. Mostly because there’s no consistent information and no clear direction. When I say I talked to and heard from other expats, I mean less than 20 people. That’s hardly scientific.
A couple of people said if you get a parasite, your body will get rid of it. Other people said no way, they are tough little buggers. One guy, a vet, had this to say:
"Way back when I took my veterinary pathology class (in Los Angeles, CA), we all did our own fecals. About half the class had some sort of parasite. For the most part, parasites are harmless. When you think about it, this is a little bug that just wants to live and let live. If they do something that upset the host (us), the host will do something to rid itself of the bug so the bug dies. Parasites in humans are more abundant then most people think. ALL over the world."
All agree that if you get parasites, you get them from tap water or leafy vegetables not washed in clorox. Talk about the cure being worse than the disease. Everyone says don’t eat salad in a restaurant unless you know how they handle their uncooked produce. There are places in the country where you don’t want to drink the water – ask first.
Our tap water at home has a hint of chlorine, so probably no parasites. We drink it. Maybe down the road, we’ll get a filter. The tricky thing is you usually don’t even know if you have them. For
the most part, symptoms are mild; you may feel tired and rundown. You can get more
obvious symptoms, of course, but most people don’t. Nothing like Montezuma’s Revenge…
Even if you get tested,
depending on where the larva are in development, you can test negative, even when you got ’em. To know for sure, you have to get tested three times, a week apart. Right. Like that’s going to happen.
An interesting aside: you are supposed to worm your dogs every three months. Leah told me to give them each one of the same pills we take. Cool. Buying them from the vet is pricey.
Another interesting tidbit: parasites are on the rise in the U.S. and there are
more and more people who do the preventive thing. I had no idea.
Not sure what we’ll do in the future. I can’t imagine feeding
my family poison once every six months anymore than I can imagine
repeating the little tiny container thing. Maybe we’ll eat more cloves and fennel and forget the whole topic. THAT sounds like a plan.
I too was worried about this, and I went on line to find natural cures. Eating garlic kills parasites, if you know you have the problem eat several cloves, say in a dressing or salsa. It works, I know ticos that use this method as well. The presc. parasite drugs have pages of warnings and side effects, they are dangerous but they do work well. Invemecina (sp) is the best, as it kills the most types of parasites. This info cost me $100.00 at Cima for what turned out to be an allergic reaction to bug bites, a little free info for you 😉
In Costa Rica did you know that it is the salt and not the water that contains floride. Tell the kids to eat thier salt!
I’m so glad you did a post about this. There are many misconceptions about CR. I know first hand working with the school about the literacy problem.
About the parasites, I’ve blogged about that one when the Taco Bell in NY was televised about their rat problem. We DO HAVE a rat problem here. If you go out to eat, most of the kitchens are “open air”. Practically ALL of them are. I have witnessed rats running in the rafters in the daytime here in Jaco. That’s partly why I prepare most of my food at home. That, and I know most restaurants don’t sterilize anything. They don’t even have hot water, the majority of them. They don’t have the standards we are used to like not mix cutting of meat with vegetables on the same cutting board. Simple stuff we take for granted because we’ve been educated. They don’t have health inspecters here that I’m aware of either. I worked in the kitchen at the school and was horrified at the sanitary conditions. Need I say more?
Personally, I don’t do the parasite test. I take the medication regardless twice a year and happy to have it available TO TAKE. There is no way to avoid the risk of contracting parasites here, especially down here in the tropics. Just like I took every injection and medication my doctor recommended before moving to “a third world country”. Better to be safe than sorry. Just “Take your Pills” (title of my past post). Teri, down in the Jungle
let me get this straight, you were actually told that the kind of parasites that can live in a dog can be killed by the same pill that its used to treat parasites that can live in a human? it sounds extremely weird to me. My dogs say that they will rather stick to medicines that have been developed FOR and tested IN dogs (remind this person not to give dogs the same chocolates,grapes or raisins that she eats please and while we are at it, tell her not to try the garlic stuff on dogs either!)
for what its worth, 3x years of drinking water all over CR and not a problem yet (same goes for everyone in my immediate family, even though I have been all over the quality of water is (to me anyway) 100% guarranteed in places where A&A handles it , where its handled by the local municipalities………well that is more of a grey area
I must be wearing my skeptic hat today (because I also think that if you were to ask 1000 people randomly in CR you could easily get away with finding 950 that read/write even with horrible typos), you could try that in rural Mexico where my cousins live for instance (Oaxaca) and I think it would be different but keep in mind that its just another statistic and they can be manipulated to show just about anything you want, for instance my stat is that 100% of the country knows at least a few sentences in English (just see if the people outside the casino knows how to say ‘dinero’ in English)
Hi Cindy – God knows we eat plenty of garlic, so we must be safe…. On the floride, I’ve just had several people email me articles about how that stuff actually kills you, could cause Alzheimer’s, all kinds of stuff!!! I definitely need to do more research there… when I think of the floride treatments the boys have had – oy vey!
Teri – you were the first person to tell me about the parasites! And everytime I’ve heard a “don’t drink the water” report, it’s near the jungle. All that heat…
So, what do you give your dogs? I’m open to suggestion here… my #1 complaint is that getting consistent info is so difficult! I got a slightly different answer from almost everyone, so I hear you!
I agree that where AYA (the water company here) handles the agua, there are no parasites because they treat it with chlorine. Which has its own health issues. But even in Guanacaste or the beach/jungle areas, you have “alerts”… I don’t know, that’s the problem.
The particularly disheartening thing about the 95% literacy rate statistic is that it glosses over such an important problem. Which keeps it under the rug and off the table. It needs to be on the table. I’ve always said there is nothing about Costa Rica I’d change, but this is something. Kids need some education, they need to be able to read so the world is available, so they can make choices. Guess I’ve been here “too long” now… wanting to change it and all!
I’ll bet those gamblers can say “hit me” in Spanish.
What? You can’t drink the water or eat in restaurants in paradise… because those ticos scratch themselves and then finish preparing your gallo pinto???
Cripes… I wouldn’t, either!
Don’t drink the water. Even in Escazu.
My first year in Escazu, I got it bad. Ended up in the hosptial for a week. Cooincidentally, Scott (one of our friends from the young expat club) did, too. Same week, by chance. They were living in Santa Ana.
Restaurants here don’t have a lock on scratch and serve… there are plenty of places in the keys I wouldn’t eat, including a particular Burger King in Homestead. The bathrooms were disgusting. Makes me believe parasites are on the rise there… I’m going to fly in the face of danger and have a glass of water and a clove of garlic.
Please blog about the info you find out about the Floride, I dont know of the health risks in low doses. Yicks!
I read in a tico times article that you can buy untreated salt but ONLY in the area around the volcanoes. Weird huh? They make it without for sale there because they found children with many problems due to the volcanoes giving out tons of the stuff naturally.
To address the anitiparasidic Invermicin, yes the doctor at CIMA said that this was originally developed for cats, and it is the number one most effective anti parasidic in the world, for cats and humans 😉
the one my vet recommends is called Drontal, the dogs hate the taste of it so I crush it and mix it with meat. there is another one she uses and the dogs love but dont recall the name right now but she prefers drontal (its something like cardomex). this being a 4 dogs/2 human household they will take it one way or the other whether they like ir not 😉
to keep beating around the water issue, I know for a fact that the bottled water can at times be simple tub water (I know someone that works in one of the bottling water comapanies and he said that when they are way behind in production, they just use other ‘water sources’ and on top I think it was desani in the US that recently admitted this too)
if you are ultraparanoid (like my mother) you can always boil the water and keep your own stash of ‘safe water’ in 2L coke bottles or something like that OR do what I do and substitute water for beer whenever possible
Hi Cindy – I don’t when I’ll blog about fluoride, it’s not such a hot topic for me, but you can google fluoride health risks and get a ton of info.
Thanks, Wolfie, I’ll look for the Drontal. Not surprised to hear water companies fill their bottles with tap water! And I’m not ultra paranoid, thank goodness. I was just exploring here whether I should be or not… I think not. No more than I would be in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world. In Key West, everyone drinks bottled water… most people won’t drink the tap water there!!!
Hey Cindy, Sally,
I just returned from a dental appt a couple of days ago and my dentist prescribed for me a gel containing sodium fluoride (Colgate PreviDent – 1.1% sodium fluoride; I’m sure there are others on the market) that one brushes on in the evening before bedtime. Afterwards you must rinse well with water, and spit it out.
He explained to me that at my age (60) people often begin to experience shrinking gums which can gradually over time expose the roots of the teeth. The roots are less durable than the enamel portions of the teeth and so are more susceptible to infection, etc., which in turn can eventually affect the teeth themselves.
The dentist advised that the fluoridation of water, like we have here in Tampa, is not a perfect shield against tooth decay in adults (it’s better for children, actually) and so we as adults will benefit greatly from a direct application of something stronger as an additive to regular brushing, flossing, etc., hence the benefit of using the sodium flouride gel.
He also advised that studies have shown that adults using such a gel very seldom experience decay problems so this nowadays is being recommended as a beneficial prophylaxis.
It is easily obtained here in the US in almost any pharmacy, but one does need an Rx for it. I don’t know about that in CR. It’s prolly obtainable there and one may not need an Rx for it in CR, but you should definitely read the directions as it should not be ingested after brushing with it (as noted above).
Hope this is useful info for you…
Thanks, Paul! I’ll check it out. For Hal.
Currently have a friend who is back from a couple years in CR. She is wearing a heart monitor and will have cataract surgery this week due to the parasites that she picked up. Bad stuff.
Sorry to hear it. Has she checked with a functional health practitioner (what I do now: vitalitypi.com) to see about reversing the effects?
It is amazingly easy to pick up parasites from soil, it happened to me and this was undiagnosed for several years. They even wanted me to see a psychiatrist… but never followed up on the q3weeks stool thing. Finally and herbalist suggested treating based on history. He was correct, I saw worms in the excreta, never proven medically. Treat. Period.
Yes, I agree, amazingly easy! We are doing a parasite protocol this year. I’m not sure I’ll look though, lol. A little afraid of what I’ll see…