European holiday destinations could become hotspots for dengue fever thanks to climate change, experts have said.
If climate change continues on its current trajectory the risk of dengue fever in Europe is likely to increase, they said.
The Po Valley in Italy, the Spanish Mediterranean and southern Spain in general are areas at most risk, researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) found.
Dengue is a viral infection spread by mosquitoes. Symptoms of include a severe flu-like illness, fever, headache, muscle ache, rash, nausea and vomiting. Mosquitoes that carry and transmit the virus thrive in warm and humid conditions.
The new research, published in the journal BMC Public Health, used data from Mexico, where dengue is present, about the occurrence of the viral illness and climate variables such as temperature, humidity and rainfall along with other factors. They combined this with information about EU countries to model which areas were likely to be most at risk.
“Work should be carried out to improve awareness of the increased risk”
“Our study has shown that the risk of dengue fever is likely to increase in Europe under climate change, but that almost all of the excess risk will fall on the coastal areas of the Mediterranean and Adriatic seas and the North Eastern part of Italy, particularly the Po Valley,” said lead researcher Professor Paul Hunter, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School.
“The exact incidence of dengue fever is dependent on several other factors, some of which we were unable to model at this stage. Nevertheless, public health agencies in high risk areas need to plan, implement and evaluate active reporting of mosquito populations and clinical surveillance by local doctors.
“Work should be carried out to improve awareness of the increased risk amongst health practitioners and the general public.”
The researchers acknowledged limitations in their study because the results are based on data from Mexico, which has a lesser summer to winter weather variation than Europe, and said that further work could strengthen their findings by taking account seasonality.
In July health officials said that the number of travellers coming home to England with dengue fever is on the rise.
Between 2012 and 2013, officials noted a 58% rise in the number of cases of dengue fever reported among holidaymakers on their return home.
In 2013 there were 541 cases reported in people returning from dengue-affected countries - compared to 343 in 2012, Public Health England (PHE) said.
PHE said that most cases were reported in travellers to India and Thailand, but officials also noted an increase in cases associated with travel to Barbados during 2013.