Holidaymakers issued alert as mosquitos infect tourists returning from hotspot destinations

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UK holidaymakers have been issued an alert as tourists returning from popular destinations are bringing back illnesses and infections.

The UK Health Security Agency has raised concerns over the rising number of diseases among returnees from some of the world's most visited locations. Data reveals an increase in illnesses such as dengue and malaria, which are transmitted by mosquitos. These diseases can lead to severe health conditions, emphasising the importance for travellers to take necessary precautions to minimise health risks while overseas.

Cases have been confirmed across the UK in individuals who had recently travelled abroad.

In 2023, there were 634 reported cases of dengue among returning travellers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This figure is comparable to the pre-pandemic period in 2019 when 790 cases were reported. Most of the dengue cases in 2023 were contracted in Southern Asia and South-Eastern Asia, particularly India, reports Bristol Live.

However, there has been a surge in cases originating from Central America and the Caribbean due to recent outbreaks in these regions. The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported a significant increase in global dengue cases in 2023, resulting in over five million cases and 5000 fatalities worldwide.

A total of 1,637 malaria cases were confirmed in England from January to October 2023. Cases returned to pre-pandemic levels, similar to the 1,719 cases reported in the UK in 2019 and matching closely with the average of 1,612 cases reported between 2010 and 2019.

The WHO reports that in 2022, global malaria cases were estimated at 249 million, surpassing pre-pandemic levels by 16 million compared to 2019. Eight Zika cases were reported in England in 2023 a similar level to 2022. Case numbers peaked in 2016 with 725 cases, reflecting the Zika outbreak in America that year, before decreasing in the following years.

While cases of Zika are low, the infection poses a particular threat to pregnant women and those trying to conceive.

Symptoms of mosquito-borne infections include fever, severe headache, pain behind the eyes, in muscles, joints and abdomen, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. The Travel Health Pro website, supported by the UK Health Security Agency, has information on health risks in countries across the world and is a one-stop-shop for information to help people plan their trip abroad.

Ideally travellers should consult their GP, practice nurse, pharmacist, or travel clinic 4 to 6 weeks before their trip for individual advice, travel vaccines and malaria prevention tablets, if relevant for their destination.

Dr Philip Veal, Consultant in Public Health at the UK Health Security Agency, said: "As travel has increased following the lifting of travel restrictions during the pandemic, so have serious mosquito-borne infections. There are simple steps that people can take to reduce the risk of infections such as malaria, dengue and Zika. Prevent mosquito bites by using insect repellent, covering exposed skin and sleeping under a treated bed net. Plan ahead and visit the TravelHealthPro website to look up your destination and the latest health information and advice. Even if you have visited or lived in a country before, you will not have the same protection against infections as local people and are still at risk."

Dr Dipti Patel, Director of the National Travel Health Network and Centre, added: "If you are making plans to travel abroad this year, please take a moment to prioritise your health and plan ahead. Check the relevant country information pages on our website, TravelHealthPro, and ideally speak to your GP or a travel health clinic 4-6 weeks ahead of travelling to ensure you have had all the necessary vaccinations and advice you need to ensure your trip is a happy and healthy one. When you return to the UK, if you feel unwell, seek medical attention and ensure you inform your healthcare provider that you have been travelling recently."

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