Taking Neem for Malaria and Dengue Fever — By Jennifer Shipp
Central America Costa Rica North America Tips

Taking Neem for Malaria and Dengue Fever — By Jennifer Shipp

Neem trees growing in La Fortuna, Costa Rica
A row of neem trees located in La Fortuna, Costa Rica. There is apparently a research facility located nearby that is exploring alternative treatments for malaria.

About a week ago, I read a news story talking about West Nile virus in the United States. Apparently, the West Nile virus has been particularly virulent this year. I congratulated myself for being here, in Costa Rica while the U.S. is stricken with an awful plague of West Nile (at least this is how new reports made it sound). But then, a few days ago, I read about the outbreak of dengue fever here in Costa Rica.

Dengue is not a fun disease, but a person can live through it. It starts suddenly, about 7 days after you’re bitten by an infected mosquito of the Aedes aegypti variety. The stricken individual first develops a really high fever of about 104 to 105 degrees. A high fever when you’re living in the tropics is really the only symptom you need to tell you to go to the doctor. As with many other diseases involving high fever, Dengue cannot be cured, but the symptoms can often be kept under control with the right medical treatment.

Two to five days after the fever starts, the infected individual develops a rash that covers most of the body. Later, the poor soul develops another rash that looks like the measles. Needless to say, the skin is sensitive and victims of dengue are uncomfortable. They feel tired, achy, nauseated, and have swollen lymph nodes. It’s not the kind of disease you’d want to catch on vacation in Costa Rica. Recovery from it takes some time. I’d be inclined to freak out a bit about dengue fever in Alajuela, but if I went back home I’d have to worry about West Nile which is just as bad.

After John caught cyclosporiasis in Morocco, I read the CDC Yellow Book (a must-have for all travelers). Although I had heard of malaria and dengue fever and other mosquito-borne disease, I had never really thought about them. I had never considered them relevant to my travels. In other words, I had been in denial about these diseases. My interest in diseases that people catch while traveling and creative treatment options was sparked by John’s bout of cyclosporiasis. I had brought along Grapefruit Seed Extract on that trip, but I was afraid to use it on him, thinking perhaps it would make things worse (because Grapefruit Seed Extract can negatively affect the intestinal flora that keeps the intestines healthy a free of pathogens with long-term use). I found out later that it might have helped.

Prophylactic malarial treatments often make people feel sick and they stop taking them. Lydian, for example has been taking doxycycline every day. When she takes the pills, they make her feel nauseated which makes her not want to take them anymore. But herbs are different and sometimes even more effective against things like malaria or dengue fever. They aren’t as heavily regulated and therefore aren’t standardized and sometimes aren’t as reliable as antiobiotics. But for a disease like dengue fever where there are no alternatives, an herbal treatment or prophylactic is worth trying.

On this trip we brought along a stash of neem, derived from a tree, to help prevent malaria and dengue fever. There aren’t very  many dengue fever prophylactic medications, but neem has shown some promise. I was excited when we were in La Fortuna because I got to actually see a real neem tree. I’d looked online for images of a neem tree, but couldn’t find anything.

A leaf from a neem tree
This is a leaf off of a neem tree growing in La Fortuna, Costa Rica.

Neem fascinates me because the oil can be used to repel mosquitos (we put some in our liquid soap that we use every morning here) and when properly prepared (don’t take the neem oil), it can also apparently be taken internally to prevent dengue and malaria. It’s something that I would recommend people look into before traveling to any tropical climate. The pathogens that cause malaria and dengue aren’t able to develop resistance to Neem and other herbal treatments the way that they do synthetically produced pharmaceuticals because herbs are chemically much more complex.

When I heard about dengue fever in Costa Rica, I was glad to have three bottles of Neem pills on hand. I wish I had more, but we have enough to take one pill per day. We’ll see what happens, but it makes me feel better anyway, to know that we have something to use to hopefully protect us from dengue because the pharmaceutical options are lacking with this disease.

You Recently Viewed ...

Trying to Enter El Salvador as a Myanmar Citizen – Lydian Shipp

The Full Central America-4 Experience: On Being Turned Away at the Border –By Jennifer Shipp

How to Get a Guatemala Visa as a Myanmar Citizen – Lydian Shipp

Hoping for Honduras: Planning a Wedding from Outer Space — By Jennifer Shipp

The So-Called Curse of Being a “High-Maintenance” Woman — By Lydian Shipp


  1. Nicasio Martinez

    I respectfully call your attention to two links and would love to communicate with you. http://t.co/4voTCOmO & http://www.bmj.com/rapid-response/2011/11/03/repapaya-leaves-speedy-rise-platelet-count-dengue#alternate. Hope you will find these links beneficial.

    January 25, 2013 Reply
    • travelingshipps

      I really appreciate this information. Very interesting indeed! Thank you!

      January 27, 2013 Reply
      • nmartinez1938

        When we share we will do a greater good and often save someone suffering or loss of life.

        January 27, 2013 Reply
  2. nmartinez1938

    By reading the TOI news article we now know neem and papaya are a dengue fever source for cure, including DF. There are written articles back to 2008 in the BMJ and other professional journals to endorse these facts. The problem is, having a sustained loud voice to begin to counter what is taught and believed in regards to there being no cure. Please! If in anyway I can be helpful let me know. When I have a chance I will read more of your blog. Thanks for your postings and responses.

    January 27, 2013 Reply
  3. yucatecmaya@WordPress.com

    This will be my second try to post, WP notwithstanding. In fact, I assume you are monitoring your comments so better that I do this as sort of an ersatz email since it´s the only means I have to contact you non-publically. Let me see if this will work this time and I will be back if it does. Thanks
    Gil Romero,

    March 11, 2013 Reply
  4. yucatecmaya@WordPress.com

    OK, that seemed to work. This info is for you folks so I do not expect you to publish it. I will be happy to return and write a comment suitible for publishing but now I am almost out of time.

    I am being picky about your Neem article in some regards as there is a tree (The China Berry) which looks very similar but in fact imbibing leaves or fruit from the China berry can be lethal to humans. As unlikely as this unfortunate event may be, one needs to be very careful about what they are ingesting, from where and from whom they got it, and generally that it is exactly what it is being billed as and in most or many cases charged for. We that publish on the Internet also have a very serious responsibility (as I am sure you will agree) if what we say may be taken as gospal by a reader and we end up, even indirectly contributing to their doing something innane rather than go to a doctor.


    Above is a series of fotos of neem leaves and trees from Google which show little to no resemblance either to the photos you posted of “Neem leaves” …or of “Neem Trees”. I have no idea what your leaf was but I can assure it was not a Neem leaf based upon extensive personal experience and because we have been growing Neem trees for over 6 years now and currently have over 5000 planted on our project here in the Yucatán.

    I am also very sure that the “Neem Trees” photo was not of Neem trees. Hard to say exactly from a distance but I know they were planting a lot of Teka (Teak) last I was in C.R and I would wager that those are some nice, still young, Teak trees but would bet the rancho they are not Neems.

    Quick summary of my other erased by WP Comments:

    One Neem cap a day is unlikely to do anything for you. It partially depends why you are taking it of course but I would imagine at least 3-4 50mg caps/day would be a normal dosage in general. Save a lot of money and make your own Neem Tea….Happy to share more info if you are interested but I should go now.

    We have a fair amount of Dengue here and unless you have plenty of funds (Remember we are on a peso budget) your best bet is probably drinking 1-2 liters perday using 5-10 leaves per liter in the making. There are myriad other additional and year round benefits to this habit beyond Dengue in any case so you really cannot lose.

    FYI, they are researching Neem for use against West Nile as well though I am not currently up on the research. I do know they have had a lot of success with lethal forms of Maleria in SE Asia with it so it is indeed a magnificent plant , along with the Moringa tree that we are proud to be growing and sharing with our local communities as well.

    Even my own MD is now drinking Neem tea for his Cholesterol and has been “prescribing” neem tea to patients that frequent his community health center for going on 2 years. We have A LOT of Diabetes in Mexico and the Neem has really made a difference in balancing the sugar and lowering the cholesterol of increasing numbers of our citizens.

    Thank you for your wonderful blog! I have been stuck in my own websites and blogs for weeks since a friend talked me into dropping Yahoo and going to WP. I know it´s “easy”…but not for all of us. Don´t worry though. “Soy muy terco….con las cosas que cuentan”

    I look forward to following your work and I am actually going to look into the two sites you write for. I have been in Mexico w/out a break for 10 years now and your own break with “normalcy” is a great inspiration for this fellow traveler with perenially itchy feet!

    Saludos cordiales,

    Your friends in the Mayan Yucatán
    Gil and Cristie Romero

    March 11, 2013 Reply
    • travelingshipps

      I really appreciate this information and I’m sure others would appreciate it as well. The person who told me that the trees we were looking at in Costa Rica was hardly a reliable source. I’ve looked online to find images of Neem trees, but one never knows where the information is accurate from an online source. I’d love to post photos in this blog of REAL images of Neem trees and leaves for my own and other people’s benefit. If you have any to offer, I would gladly give you credit for them.

      I also appreciate the dosage information about the Neem plant and information about it’s other potential uses. I think it’s just important for people to have the opportunity to learn about herbal options and alternative medicine. In the United States, it’s so hard to get honest information that can lead to wellness. Everything, including online resources of information is controlled by the pharmaceutical company’s interests. Doctors are heavily marketed by the pharmaceutical companies as well and rarely, if ever offer valuable advice or treatment options to patients these days. Everyone is on the drug treadmill here. If you have more information about Neem, please share. I regard this information as infinitely valuable and I know there are others who will appreciate it as well.

      March 12, 2013 Reply
    • travelingshipps

      Also, just curious, but what part of the Yucatan are you in? I’d love to come see actual Neem trees the next time we go to the Yucatan…

      March 12, 2013 Reply


Bruised Banana