May 11, 2011 / 9:56 AM / 8 years ago

Cases of dengue fever double among UK travelers

LONDON (Reuters) - Cases of dengue fever, a mosquito-borne infection, have more than doubled in Britain in the past year with the majority of infections linked to travel to India, health officials said on Wednesday,

A patient lies on a bed in a ward reserved for people suffering from dengue fever in a hospital at Barrio Obrero district in Asuncion April 14, 2011. REUTERS/Jorge Adorno

Data from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) showed there were 406 cases of the disease among Britons who travelled abroad during 2010, up from 166 reported cases in 2009.

Dengue fever does not naturally occur in Britain, and the highest proportion of cases were associated with travel to India — with 84 cases or 21 percent and Thailand — with 61 cases 15 percent, the HPA said.

“These figures demonstrate that the importance of taking precautions to avoid mosquito bites extends to protecting against other infections, not just malaria,” said Dr Jane Jones, head of the HPA’s travel and migrant health section.

Global incidence of dengue fever has grown dramatically in recent decades. According to the World Health Organization, around 2.5 billion people — two fifths of the world’s population — are now at risk from dengue and there are an estimated 50 million dengue infections worldwide every year.

The increase in dengue cases in Britain was also coupled with a 34 percent rise in the number of reported cases of chikungunya, another mosquito borne infection, the HPA said, with half of the 79 chikungunya cases in 2010 also associated with travel to India.

Both dengue and chikungunya are endemic in Asia and Africa and dengue is also common in many other parts of the world including South America, Central America and the Caribbean and the Western Pacific.

The diseases are not spread from person to person but only through the bite of an infected mosquito. Symptoms for both dengue and chikungunya include sudden onset of a flu-like illness with fever, muscle pain, headache and a rash.

There is no vaccine or drug to prevent or treat either disease, and unlike for malaria where people can take medication to prevent infection, there is no drug prevention option for dengue or chikungunya.

French drugmaker Sanofi-Aventis is one of various groups and firms seeking to develop a dengue vaccine and is currently testing it in late stage clinical trials.

Jones said tourists and other travelers should wear covering clothing and use insect repellents to minimize the risk of being bitten by mosquitoes, since those that spread dengue and chikungunya bite during the daytime, while those that spread malaria are mainly active at night.

Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Matthew Jones

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