This is a small island and consequently it cannot provide a broad spectrum of specialist medical services, though with the continuing advance in techniques, this situation is steadily improving. The facilities on both the Dutch and French sides are excellent for basic illnesses, broken bones and minor surgery. However, for more serious, life threatening conditions, it is generally necessary to be evacuated to a hospital that has the appropriate facilities.
The cost of an air ambulance and subsequent medical treatment is high and therefore it is advisable that medical insurance cover be obtained.
On this and many other Caribbean islands there is a risk of being poisoned when eating certain kinds of local fish. Known as Ciguatera, this poisoning is caused by a toxin that occurs in certain coral formations. The poison finds its way into to small fish. It then makes its way up through the food chain as larger fish devour the smaller varieties.
The toxin cannot be neutralized and the fish, which are carrying it, look, smell and taste perfectly normal. The toxic effect on humans occurs with great rapidity and can last for several weeks, sometimes recurring many months later.
The poisoning causes acute nausea, vomiting and diarrhea accompanied by chills, headaches and dizziness. Other symptoms include a feeling of numbness coupled with a tingling sensation around the mouth, hands and feet. In extreme cases respiratory distress occurs, but less than 1 in 1000 cases proves fatal. Good restaurants on the island acquire their fish and seafood from Ciguatera free Regions and do not pose a threat.