Is climate change bringing dengue fever to Europe?

Dengue fever is usually found in tropical climates, where mosquitoes are widespread. Credit: AP

By Daniel Boal, ITV News multimedia producer

Public health authorities fear dengue fever is becoming more widespread, as climate change brings the virus to Europe.

Researchers have warned that contracting the condition could become more common after a 44-year-old woman was infected while on holiday in Nice, in the the south of France.

She was diagnosed with the condition by the UK's Rare Imported Pathogens Laboratory, after experiencing a fever, headache, muscle pain and a rash.

What is dengue?

Dengue fever, also known as 'break-bone fever,' is an infection spread by mosquitos.

The NHS states that while it is not usually serious and often gets better on its own, some people can experience a severe dose of dengue fever, accompanied by debilitating symptoms.

The viral infection is contracted by around 400 million people each year. Around 100 million of those become sick from the infection and about 40,000 die.

Dengue can be caused by any of four related viruses, meaning people can be infected with dengue multiple times in their life.

What are the symptoms?

The infection doesn't always cause symptoms, but if it does, they usually appear four to 10 days after someone has been bitten by a mosquito.

In mild cases of dengue fever symptoms are similar to the flu.

They include:

  • A high temperature

  • A severe headache

  • Pain behind your eyes

  • Muscle and joint pain

  • Feeling or being sick

  • Swollen glands

  • A blotchy rash made up of flat or slightly raised spots – this can affect large areas of your body

A man getting treated for dengue fever in Paraguay. Credit: AP

Severe cases, which are much rarer, typically begin after feeling better then being hit with more serious symptoms around 24-48 hours later.

Symptoms of severe dengue fever include:

  • Severe stomach pain

  • Repeatedly being sick

  • Fast breathing

  • Bleeding gums or nose

  • Extreme tiredness

  • Being unable to relax

  • Blood in vomit or poo

Is there a vaccine for dengue fever?

There is no vaccine available in the UK for dengue fever, so the NHS advises that people take precautions before travelling to a country where there is a risk of infection.

In the US, where the condition is more prevalent, vaccines are available for children but are reserved for people who live in high risk areas.

What can you do to avoid dengue fever?

The best way to avoid dengue is by minimising the chances of mosquitos from biting you.

Wearing long-sleeved clothing and trousers, making use of insect repellent, closing windows and doors, and sleeping under a mosquito net can help prevent catching dengue.

Why is climate change bringing the condition to Europe?

While dengue is most common in tropical regions, including in parts of Africa, Asia, Central and South America, the Caribbean and the Pacific islands, it is increasingly turning up in Europe.

During the spring to November period, the virus has been detected in Croatia, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Madeira.

Climate change has led to the increased presence of the Asian tiger mosquito, a carrier of the disease, throughout southern Europe.

Most UK infections of the virus are diagnosed in travellers who have recently visited these regions.

Health workers fumigating to prevent dengue in India. Credit: AP

Dr Owain Donnelly, from the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in London, said: “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.”

NHS advice says dengue fever is presently not found in the UK. The health service assures the mosquito-borne disease cannot be caught from another person.

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