Help / Assistance/ First Aid

Written on 11/07/2019
EdV


You're in a foreign country, you may not know the language (or be proficient in it), or you have no idea what to do in case of emergency or for assistance here.    Here are some helpful things to know: 

  • 911 is available for emergencies here.  However, please note, there has been some consistency issues with the service and you may not get through or get a response.  So having a back-up plan is a good idea.

Medical emergencies: Cozumel Hospitals (not in any particular order):

IMSS
If you are covered by IMSS and wish to utilize this option, you’ll be going to the IMSS Hospital General de Subzona Medicina Familiar No. 2, on the corner of 30 ave and calle 11. You’ll need info from your employer to prove you’re covered (obviously it would be prudent to have all this in your possession before needing any care or treatment) and your health booklet (your “carnet”).

Police assistance: Did you know Cozumel has "Tourist Police"?  If you need assistance but cannot communicate effectively in Spanish, these may be who you are looking for.   For non-emergency situations, you can contact them through Facebook page and messenger, they also have a booth in square by the ferry - Parque Benito Juarez, in front of Plaza del Sol. 

Dentist:  You've fallen down after too many margaritas and cracked a tooth, now what?   You'll need to get looked at and there are some top-notch dentists on the island.

(In no particular order)

 

First Aid Scenarios

Cozumel is a tropical, Mexican Caribbean island - there are venomous fish, stingrays, jellyfish, scorpions, etc.   It's not a reason to avoid the island and serious situations are rare, however, knowing what to do (should you have an unfortunate close encounter) can make a difference to your enjoyment of the island!

Lionfish 

These fish are well-protected, surrounding themselves with venomous spines.   Like many species, they like to hide and protect themselves.  You should never, ever, reach into an area you cannot see clearly into, or be touching or grabbing onto anything underwater anyway - but accidents can still happen.  

First aid treatment for Lionfish sting:   

  • If you're stung on your hand and wearing jewelry - remove all jewelry & rings as your hand will swell.
  • Remove any visible spine or debris from the wound.
  • Place area into hot (non-scalding) water as soon as possible - and soak.  This neutralises the venom.
  • DO NOT APPLY ICE - or anything cold.
  • Seek medical attention as soon as possible.  Tissue necrosis, shock and other serious conditions can result from a Lionfish sting.

 

Stingray

Cozumel is home to a variety of rays (not all of them venomous.)   Stingrays are defensive creatures and will not attack unless feeling threatened.   Of course, when they're happily chilling, buried just under the sand, they don't realise it's purely accidental when you step on them - so they react and protect themselves.  Next thing you know, you've got a stingray barb to deal with.

First aid treatment for a Stingray sting:  

  • Rinse the sting in fresh water
  • The sting will most likely be on the foot or leg area, however, if you're stung on your hand and wearing jewelry - remove all jewelry & rings as your hand will swell.
  • Place area into hot (non-scalding) water as soon as possible - and soak.  This helps neutralise the venom.
  • Try to remove any visible barb from the wound.
  • Seek medical attention to be sure wound is clean & clear of stinger.

 

Sea Urchins

These curious aquatic creatures are herbavores and as such, like to tuck themselves away into the algae-rich nooks and crannies of the coastal ironshore & reef.   Using fragile but sharp spines, attached to their exoskeleton for protection, they can present a prickly situation for snorklers, divers and beach goers.  

If you've stepped on, accidentaly grabbed or otherwise come into contact with a Sea Urchin, the spines can bury themselves deep into tissue, often breaking off and being difficult to remove. 

First aid treatment for Urchin spines:

  • Carefully (they are fragile and may break further) remove visible spines immediately
  • If injury is superficial, apply a compress of wet cloth soaked in vinegar (will dissolve spines), or soak area in vinegar - several times daily
  • If injury is substantial, seek medical attention to ensure no spines have migrated deep into tissue and that all visible pieces have been removed
  • If pain continues (or increases) after 4 - 5 days, infection should be considered and medical attention sought

 

"Sea Lice" 

You've jumped into the water at your favourite beach and the next thing you know, you're feeling little electric "shocks," burning or  stinging - what's this now?   You're likely about to experience "Sea Bather's Eruption," "agua mala" or "pica pica" (itchy itchy) as it's sometimes known - and it's caused by tiny babies, no bigger than a speck of pepper in many cases.  

Some people call them "noseeums" as in, "Hey, what got you in the water?"  

"I dunno, I no-see-em!"

These tiny jellyfish (often thimble jellyfish), or sea anemone babies, have self-protection in the form of stinging nematocysts and if the larvae feel stressed by getting trapped under an arm, in a swimsuit or swim shorts, their cells react by releasing toxin and causing a rash and other symptoms.  Exposure to the toxin these larvae produce can result in fever, nausea and chills and these effects are usually felt before the rash appears, especially as the rash can take as many as 4 days to appear.  The larvae are most common between March - August.

  • If you suspect you've found yourself in hot water with these itty-bitty - but feisty babies - do not towel off (it will activate the stinging nematocysts).  Instead, rinse off thoroughly, with a fresh/different water source.  
  • If you have a reaction (causes a red rash), over-the-counter antihistamines, hydrocortisone creams and calamine lotion can help.  
  • Wash and rinse the items you wore in the water, several times and then soak in vinegar - be aware, the stingers can really get stuck into in the material for weeks and will continue to "fire" when contact sets them off.
  • Although rare, severe reactions can occur (chills, fever, nausea, weakness, vomiting), if this does happen, seek medical attention.  You may need additional treatment.

If you have concerns for yourself, children or the elderly, consider bring Safe Sea with you.  It's proven quite effective in clinical trials.

Jellyfish

These amazing sea creatures are both the things of wonderful Disney stories - and of nightmares - but many people fear them without really knowing anything about them.   While many do not cause serious harm and some don't sting at all, there are things you should be aware of, should a chance encounter occur.   

  • Do not touch or rub the area
  • Apply vinegar to help stop further stings (use a spray bottle if possible)
  • Wash off any remaining tentacles with sea water (never use fresh, it causes the nematocysts to fire their venom) - do not rub!
  • If possible, soak the area in hot (not scalding) water.
  • Seek medical attention

 

 

 Photo:  Moon Jellyfish



Important note: Comb jellies are one of the most common jelly encounters you'll have (aside from the Sea Lice mentioned previously) but they're not actually true jellies.  These beautiful, fragile jellies have no stinging nematocysts at all.  They float and bob along, sometimes illuminating with bioluminescence.  They're seen often at fairly shallow depths while people snorkle and frankly, you pose more of a danger to these incredible, gentle creatures.  Be gentle please.

 

Photo: Comb Jellie - National Geographic



Fire Coral

Not actually a coral, Fire Coral are a close relative to the Portuguese "Man of War" jellyfish, so it's not surprising these coral can cause a world of hurt.

Best prevention: Never touch anything underwater.    Fire coral does not limit itself to branch-like coral structures, it can set itself up quite happily on old shells, rocks and other structures.   Look for yellow-green or a brown stony appearance.

A burning/stinging sensation and a rash that appears after direct contact, will generally subside in a couple days but may also reappear much later, sometimes weeks after the initial exposure.   While not generally an emergency situation, it will cause a fair bit of discomfort.

  • Rinse the affected area with vinegar
  • Keep the area dry and exposed to air
  • If water blisters develop, try not to rupture them (which can lead to infection)
  • Seek medical attention

Important Note: If you have an open wound in the affected area, seek medical attention immediately.

 

Scorpions

Scorpions can be helpful in keeping cockroaches, crickets, silverfish, etc in check.  They are generally considered docile and non-agressive and are nocturnal - so the odds of seeing one during the day are fairly slim, unless you've disturbed earth and debris, uncovering their hiding spot.  Interestingly, they have a chemical in their exo-skeleton that causes them to glow blue under ultra-violet light!

Because these critters are nocturnal, although uncommon, the possibility of accidentally stepping on during the night does exist.  Should this occur, don't panic.  The sting may be painful but is not likely serious.  

  • Clean the wound with mild soap and water
  • Apply a cool compress to relieve pain
  • Use an over-the-counter pain reliever if necessary

The possibility of a severe allergic reaction does exist.  If breathing or swallowing difficulties occur, or any sign of a more severe reaction, seek medical attention.