Foreign Office issues health alert to UK travellers after 'unexpected' surge in life-threatening virus

New figures show soaring levels of illnesses including dengue and malaria caused by exposure to mosquitos
-Credit: (Image: Getty)

The Foreign Office has issued a health alert due to a 'growing public health concern' as 'the world has faced an unexpected rise' in cases and deaths from a life-threatening virus. The World Health Organisation is advising that approximately four billion people in 130 countries are at risk of dengue a virus spread by mosquitoes found in tropical and subtropical regions worldwide, including parts of Europe.

Travel Health Pro, a subdivision of the Foreign Office, has warned that dengue has 'spread into regions previously thought to be dengue free'. As of April 2024, over five million dengue cases and over 2,000 dengue-related deaths have been reported worldwide since the beginning of 2024.

An increase in dengue cases has been flagged around the world, including in Asia, Central and South America and across the Caribbean. Dengue is not endemic in Europe, says Travel Health Pro.

But if environmental conditions are favourable in parts of Europe where mosquitoes which can carry dengue live, then travel-related cases may cause the spread of dengue locally. Several European countries have previously reported locally acquired cases of dengue.

In 2023, locally acquired cases were reported in France, Italy and Spain, says the Foreign Office subsidiary, reports the Manchester Evening News.

What is dengue?

Dengue, a virus spread by the bite of an infected mosquito that primarily feeds during daylight hours, is the subject of an alert issued at the beginning of May on Travel Health Pro's website. The four different types of dengue virus are DENV- 1, DENV- 2, DENV- 3 and DENV- 4.

What are the symptoms?

According to Travel Health Pro, most people infected with dengue will not exhibit symptoms.

"If illness develops, it usually begins suddenly with a high fever, severe headache, muscle and joint pain, nausea, vomiting and a rash. Most infections are self-limiting, with a rapid recovery three to four days after the rash appears," the alert states.

Are there treatments for dengue?

A small percentage of those infected may develop a severe form of the disease known as severe dengue, previously sometimes referred to as dengue haemorrhagic fever. Symptoms of this severe illness include dangerously low blood pressure (shock), fluid accumulation in the lungs and severe bleeding (haemorrhage).

According to Travel Health Pro, any of the four types of dengue virus infection can result in either dengue or severe dengue.

Currently, there is no specific drug treatment for severe dengue illness, but 'supportive' treatments for shock and bleeding are available, which improve survival rates. Without this assistance, severe dengue illness can be fatal.

Advice for travellers:

  • Travel Health Pro says all travellers, including cruise passengers, who are visiting areas where dengue cases have been reported or where dengue is believed to be present, are at risk of infection

  • Refer to the 'other risks' section on Travel Health Pro's country information web pages to assess the dengue risk at your destination and for specific advice about other health risks

  • Check the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) country advice for safety and security information for your destination

  • Consult your GP, practice nurse, pharmacist or travel clinic to ensure all your recommended travel vaccines and UK routine vaccines, including MMR, are up-to-date

  • There is a live, attenuated (weakened) dengue vaccine called Qdenga licensed in the United Kingdom, but it is not suitable for all travellers