Monday, 28 April 2014

Progresso, Rabies, and why you Should Ignore Doctors Advice

After another night spent in a nondescript town in rural Mexico, we got on the road early and headed north. We often change our plans around, adding places, and taking places away from our route depending on how we feel, or based on recommendations from people that we’ve met, but the decision to bypass Merida was particularly last minute. As we drove around the perifico, headed for a campsite in the north of the city, we decided that we’d prefer some time on the beach instead. We drove past the turn off and instead headed north for Progresso, a town signed as having a beach on the road signs. I’m sure Merida is nice, but it’s easy to get overloaded with cute colonial cities in Mexico, and by many accounts Merida is more touristy than most. I know that it’s ironic for us, as tourists, to discriminate against a place for having lots of people like us, but we’re in Mexico to see Mexico, we needn’t have left London if we wanted to see lots of international tourists with the cameras out taking photos of each other in overpriced cafes and bars.

Progresso is not somewhere that I’d recommend to fellow travellers strongly. It is based almost entirely around a cruise ship terminal and it feels as if the town was built, solely to give cruise ships another place to berth on the Yucatan Peninsula. It has a nice beach, but however far you walk down it, you can always see the 7km pier which allows ships to berth in an area of extremely shallow water. The town fills up with sunburnt Americans looking for an overpriced trinket and a cheesy photo when a cruise ship docks, and just as quickly turns into a ghost town when the busses take the passengers back on board. This was the first place we’d been in Mexico where the shops and restaurants accept dollars.

We took a walk around the town to get some groceries and get our laundry done, but there is little to do or see in the town except for spending time on the beach or at the adjacent bars or restaurants. The only bit of excitement was some dogs barking at us. The only thing which persuaded us to stay a couple of days was the fact that Progresso has an excellent free camping location, on the west side of the pier. For some reason 99% of the cruise ship passengers stick to the east side of the pier, and the beach on the west side is almost deserted day and night. There is a large area of compacted sand parking, on the beach, somewhere around the end of Calle 90. The area is undergoing very slow development but at the moment I’d take bets that you could spend months here before someone took notice.

The street dogs in Progresso were generally no different from anywhere else in Mexico. On the whole the street dogs in mexico are not feral, for sure they sleep out on the street but they are generally fed and watered by someone who wants a cheap alarms system to warn them if somebody approaches their property. Most of them bark incessantly, but in general they are not aggressive and they rarely form large intimidating packs. Walking around with Boris is a sure fire way of making sure that every dog within a few miles will come and bark at us, Progresso was no different. On our first day in Progresso we passed a pair of dogs who behaved in pretty much the same way as every other street dog we pass; however on the second day one of them did something no other dog we’ve met has done, and bit Naomi. It wasn’t a savage mauling, the dog just ran up behind Naomi and bit her on the back of the leg. In the UK the bite wouldn’t have warranted anything more than a plaster, but we knew from research we did before we left the UK that Mexico has rabies and so the potential consequences of not going to hospital are much worse.
The chances of getting bitten by a dog when you are travelling with one of your own are much higher. Partly because dogs pay an interest in you when they otherwise wouldn’t, but partly because if your dog gets into a fight, there’s a good chance you’ll get a bite if you try to break it up. Boris is pretty laid back, and in general ignores any dog he doesn’t know, but he has an annoying habit of picking the dogs which could rip my face off, and then winding them up badly. He’ll growl at them, and piss all of their territory, until they start getting angry, and then he leaves me or Naomi to deal with them whilst he trots off somewhere. With this in mind, Noami and I both had a three-shot rabies vaccination before we left the UK. Unfortunately the vaccinations are not guaranteed to give you immunity, and so if you get bitten, you still need the after-bite injections, albeit not within 24 hours, and only two instead of five.

At first we went to a local medical consultant, every town has a handful and we found one almost immediately. Unfortunately he was unable to treat non-Mexicans, and so we went to the tourist information office to find out where the nearest hospital was. Progresso relies almost 100% on tourism for income, and so the staff at the tourist office were extremely quick to give us help. One of the staff put us in the back of his car and drove us to hospital himself. The hospital was almost bereft of patients, and so Naomi was seen almost immediately. The doctor informed Naomi that Progresso has no rabies, and prescribed her a course of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories to prevent the bite from getting infected. Simon, from the tourist office, took us to a chemist where he got us a price on the medication which no tourist would have received, and drove us back into town.

The staff at the tourist office and the hospital were both extremely helpful, nevertheless neither Naomi or me wanted to hang around in Progresso for another night, and almost as soon as we were back from the hospital we got in the truck and headed south east, headed for Piste and Chichen Itza.
At Chichen Itza we spent the night at the Pyramide Inn campsite. That evening we were browsing the internet on the campsites Wi-Fi network, and we came across a webpage summarising the Yucatan’s fight against rabies. Of course we have 100% faith in the Mexican medical system, but when we read that there were recent cases of rabies in Merida, only a few miles from Progresso, we decided that it was best to get a second opinion on whether Naomi needed a vaccination. At a small hospital in Piste the following morning, a doctor reaffirmed to Naomi that a vaccination wasn’t necessary.

Of course, after this second opinion we were in no doubt that the doctors we had spoken to were correct and we still maintained 100% faith in the Mexican medical system. Nevertheless, the following day, after visiting the Chichen Itza ruins, we happened to find ourselves speaking to an expert doctor at a large, modern hospital in nearby Valladolid. This doctor, unlike the first two, was adamant that Naomi needed the rabies vaccines; particularly as the wound was not superficial, and that we did not know anything about the dog that bit her. We had difficulty communicating that Naomi had already had the pre-emptive vaccines in the UK, and so she was prescribed the full five dose course given to people who have not been vaccinated prior to a bite. Naomi received the first dose almost on the spot, and we agreed to return in 3 days and then another 4 days for the next doses. We were not charged for the hospital visit, or the vaccinations, despite the fact that we are non-Mexicans and have never paid any Mexican taxes.

The first two doctors that we spoke to were probably correct, in that as Progresso has no recent recorded cases of rabies, it was extremely unlikely that Naomi had contracted the virus. Nevertheless rabid dogs have been caught within a reasonable travelling distance for a canine, and so it is not beyond the realms of possibility that a rabid dog had recently thrown a knapsack over his shoulder and travelled to the town from the nearby rabid bad lands. Rabies is as good as 100% fatal in humans once symptoms show, and so it seems close to negligent to say that the vaccination isn’t necessary.

1 comment:

  1. Glad to hear that Naomi is alright. I see you are making some wonderful progress on your voyage, I've got to get caught up, I've been out of touch a while.