Staying Healthy on Saba

Saba has its own hyperbaric chamber for injured divers

Photo credit: © Nikola Bilic | Dreamstime.com
 

While divers must certainly look after their safety as they take advantage of the pristine diving waters of Saba, other travelers should also be aware of the health threats and risks that are posed to them as they visit foreign countries.

Saba is a small five square mile island nestled in the Leeward Netherlands Antilles. Despite its small size, the island houses a medical center, medical school, and hyperbaric chamber. The medical center does not handle complex cases or general surgery (which are sent Sint Maarten or elsewhere), but does provide general first aid assistance to travelers. Also serving the Eastern Caribbean is the hyperbaric chamber that is used to treat scuba divers with decompression complications.

Divers should also make themselves aware of any dangerous marine life, such as jellyfish or sea urchins, that they could encounter while on their dives. Besides diving emergencies, the sun can also prove to be a menace when visiting any Caribbean island. Hikers who plan on spending a day trekking across the wilderness and rock faces of Saba should hydrate continuously and apply sunscreen. Sun stroke, often signaled by severe dizziness and nausea, is a condition that must be taken seriously.

Visitors to the Caribbean should always also pack insect repellent (containing DEET) and long sleeve shirts, pants, and shoes that can help protect them from mosquitoes that may carry infectious diseases. Steps should also be taken to protect oneself from the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases while traveling.

One of the most tempting parts of visiting the Caribbean is the bountiful fresh seafood that is available. Travelers, however, should beware of eating reef fish such as barracuda, grouper, and red snapper, as these fish may carry the dangerous ciguatera biotoxin. Ciguatera poisoning can not be eliminated by cooking the fish, and symptoms may include diarrhea, pins and needles, and neurological problems. Travelers should avoid eating larger reef predators and should research the existence of any recent outbreaks. Travelers may also find local scuba divers to be a good resource for advice. Common sense should be utilized when eating other foods on your travels. Never eat uncooked food or unpasteurized dairy products. Travelers may wish to drink bottled water while on the island, although water is generally considered to be safe.

Travelers should always meet with their heath care professional to discuss the areas to which they are traveling. Doctors will ensure that you are up to date on your routine immunizations, and that you receive any additional vaccinations that are recommended for the area that you will be visiting. While visiting your doctor, be sure to obtain a note detailing any prescription medication you will be bringing with you, and make sure the note explains why you need to bring it with you.  When you pack your medication, make sure it is in its clearly marked original container. 

Malaria is not considered a threat in the Netherlands Antilles. Routine immunizations may include tetanus and measles, but your doctor may also recommend other vaccinations such as hepatitis, typhoid, or rabies, depending on the areas in the Caribbean that you will be traveling to.  Travelers can look through the full list of concerns and recommendations that are given for the Caribbean region by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States (http://www.cdc.gov/travel/caribean.htm).

In the event of a medical emergency that requires travelers to be airlifted to another island or back to the United States, travelers should have medical insurance that covers travel on Saba. Consult your medical insurance provider. If travel to Saba is not covered, travelers are strongly recommended to invest in travel insurance.

Health and Medicine Contacts

Location Contact Information Details
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- United States
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Rd
Atlanta, GA 30333 USA

404-639-3534
800-311-3435
http://www.cdc.gov
- provides travel health advice
A.M. Edwards Medical Center The Bottom

599-416-3289
- 14 beds
- 1 registered doctor, several nurses
- Cases requiring surgery are sent to Sint Maarten
Saba Marine Park Hyperbaric Facility P.O. Box 18
Fort Bay, Saba

599-416-3295
http://www.sabapark.org/
- 4 person recompression chamber since 1980
- On call physician, trained volunteers
Ambulance 599-416-3289
Saba University School of Medicine Saba University School of Medicine
P.O. Box 1000
The Bottom, Saba

800-825-7754
599-416-3456
508-632-2168 (Fax)
http://www.saba.edu
E-mail: saba@tiac.net
- Island medical school with students from around the world
The Pharmacy The Bottom

599-416-3289
- open Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

It is unlikely that travelers to Saba will experience any serious health risks from their travel. However, the sun, toxic fish, and other hazards do exist in the region. Consult your physician and take precautions to ensure that you return from Saba feeling healthier than when you arrived.

 

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