Potentially deadly dengue fever affecting British holidaymakers

Ruth Doherty
Potentially deadly dengue fever reaches Britain through holidaymaker spread
Potentially deadly dengue fever reaches Britain through holidaymaker spread

Stock photo, Madeira: Rex

Europe could be facing the worst outbreak of dengue fever in 100 years, according to experts.

The Europe Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), said this week that the continent is experiencing its first sustained transmission of the potentially deadly disease since the 1920s.

According to the Daily Mail, six Britons have been confirmed as contracting the disease, which is spread by mosquitoes, after holidaying on the Portuguese island of Madeira, and 19 cases have been confirmed elsewhere in Europe among travellers returning from the island.

The outbreak started in early October, with 1,357 cases of dengue fever being reported in Madeira since.

Eighty nine people have received hospital treatment, and no deaths have been reported so far.

So what is dengue fever? Caused by a bite from a mosquito infected with the virus, it can cause symptoms from flu-like illnesses to rashes and bone pain.

Severe and deadly forms develop in around five per cent of patients.

A spokesman from ECDC told the Daily Mail: "Given the dramatic expansion of endemic dengue transmission globally over the last 20 to 30 years and the high number of visitors to Madeira, the outbreak is large and constitutes a significant public health event."

There has so far been no travel restriction warnings, but protection against mosquito bites individually, as well as at Madeira's ports and airports, has been advised.

Travel-associated infection expert at the Health Protection Agency (HPA), Jane Jones, explained that dengue fever cannot be passed from person to person and it only occurs when bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus.

In a statement Jane advised: "To minimise the risk of being bitten it is advisable to wear appropriate clothing to cover up - such as long-sleeved tops and trousers, and to use insect repellents."

Authorities in geographical areas neighbouring Madeira, such as the Canary Islands and other EU member states, were advised by the ECDC to consider stepping up surveillance of disease-spreading Aedes mosquito populations and assess the risk they pose.

Dr Dipti Patel, joint director of the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC), told the Daily Mail: "There is no specific preventive medicine or vaccination against dengue fever and prevention relies on avoiding mosquito bites particularly around dusk and dawn when the day biting mosquitoes are most active.

"Anyone who develops a fever or flu-like symptoms within two weeks of returning from a trip to Madeira should seek medical advice from NHS Direct or their GP."

There has been a thirty-fold jump in dengue cases worldwide in the past 50 years. In Europe, the first local transmissions of the disease were recorded in France and Croatia in 2012. Earlier this year, Greek health officials attributed the death of an 80-year-old man to its first case of dengue since an outbreak in 1927 to 1928.

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