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Should you be worried about dengue fever on your next European holiday?


Dengue fever – a disease normally associated with tropical areas of the world – is becoming more prevalent in parts of Europe due to climate change, researchers have warned.

The caution comes after a woman from the UK was infected while on holiday in the south of France in September 2022, reporting a fever, headache, muscle pain and a rash for three days, but without needing further medical treatment.

Dr Owain Donnelly from the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in London said: “This individual was part of an outbreak of over 30 locally transmitted cases in the south of France in 2022, which highlights the rapidly changing epidemiology of dengue.

“With climate change, particularly hotter temperatures and more rainfall, and increasing global trade and tourism, we may see more parts of Europe with the right combination of factors for dengue outbreaks.

Surveillance and reporting mechanisms are important in ensuring we have an accurate understanding of dengue spread.”

As summer holidays are fast approaching, should dengue fever be something to worry about if you’re heading to Europe?

What is dengue fever?

Dengue fever “is a virus found in many parts of the world and is usually not serious”, said Dr Babak Ashrafi at Asda Online Doctor.

Ashrafi said it’s “a very common condition associated with travelling”.

According to the NHS, it’s most common in tropical areas including parts of Africa and Asia, Central and South America, the Caribbean, the Pacific islands and some southern areas of North America. You can also catch it in some parts of southern Europe during certain times of the year.

How do you catch dengue fever?

“Dengue fever is passed by infected mosquito bites,” Ashrafi explained. “The mosquitoes that carry dengue bite during the day, so it’s important to protect yourself in the daytime if you’re visiting countries with cases of the virus.”

One important thing to know about the infection is “you cannot contract dengue from another person”, Ashrafi said.

What are the common symptoms?

“Some people will experience no symptoms of dengue,” Ashrafi said. An estimated 75% of cases are asymptomatic and can go undetected.

For those who do experience symptoms, these can include “fever, headache and pain behind the eyes, nausea and feeling achy. You may also notice a visible red blotchy rash.”

If you do have symptoms, they will usually appear four to 10 days after being bitten.

What should you do if you have symptoms?

The NHS recommends asking for an urgent GP appointment or calling 111 if you feel unwell after travelling to a country where dengue is found.

“Most cases of dengue fever are mild and will pass of their own accord,” Ashrafi said. “In rare circumstances, a person with dengue may find that their symptoms get worse after a few days, so remain vigilant if you or someone you’re travelling with has been bitten, as this may require hospital treatment.

Symptoms of severe dengue include abdominal pain and nausea, breathing difficulties, passing blood, exhaustion or restlessness. If you have any of these symptoms it’s important to seek medical help straight away.”

How is it treated?

If you feel unwell after a mosquito bite, Ashrafi’s main advice is “try to rest and remain hydrated until symptoms pass”.

He continued: “You can also take over-the-counter treatments like paracetamol to bring down your fever and minimise any pain or discomfort. Avoid anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen, as these can cause side effects when infected with dengue.”

As above, anyone experiencing worsening or severe symptoms should seek medical help.

How can you protect yourself from dengue?

Ashrafi said “preventing bites is key” and recommends using the same measures “as you would any other condition spread by mosquitoes”.

For example: “Wear long clothes that cover your arms and legs, use repellent sprays, and keep doors and windows closed to prevent bugs coming in.”

How worried should travellers to Europe be this summer?

“Dengue usually isn’t severe, and while it can come with flu-like symptoms which can be unpleasant, it typically passes of its own accord in just a few days without the need for medical treatment,” Ashrafi said. “While cases have been reported in Europe, the risk of infection remains low, and severe illness even lower.

“However, if you are medically vulnerable you may be advised to avoid countries with recorded incidents, these include people with weak immune systems, the elderly, the very young and pregnant women.”


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