Early signs of dengue fever and how to prevent it on holiday

Aedes albopictus (Stegomyia albopicta), from the mosquito (Culicidae) family, also known as the (Asian) tiger mosquito or forest mosquito, is a mosquito native to the tropical and subtropical areas of Southeast Asia. The Aedes albopictus is an epidemiologically important vector for the transmission of many viral pathogens, including the yellow fever virus, dengue fever, and Chikungunya fever, as well as several filarial nematodes such as Dirofilaria immitis. Tehatta, West Bengal, India.
The Asian tiger mosquito is responsible for causing dengue fever. (Getty Images)

Cases of dengue fever are on the rise across Europe, and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has issued an update warning both locals and travellers of the risks.

The disease is spread by the Asian tiger mosquito, which used to only be found in tropical countries but has become an invasive species elsewhere.

Rising global temperatures due to climate change have created "more favourable conditions" for the mosquitoes to spread into "previously unaffected areas", ECDC director Andrea Ammon said.

She added: "Increased international travel from dengue-endemic countries will also increase the risk of imported cases, and inevitably also the risk of local outbreaks."

The ECDC has found established populations of the invasive mosquitoes in 13 European countries, including:

  • Austria

  • Bulgaria

  • Croatia

  • France

  • Germany

  • Greece

  • Hungary

  • Italy

  • Malta

  • Portugal

  • Romania

  • Slovenia

  • Spain

While authorities at UK ports have detected the tiger mosquito several times in recent years, no local populations have been established.

If you are planning to travel to countries with established populations of the tiger mosquito, you should be aware of the symptoms of dengue fever, as well as how to keep yourself safe.

Woman with flu virus lying in bed, she is measuring her temperature with a thermometer and touching her forehead
A high temperature, accompanied by headache, pain behind the eyes, joint pain, or nausea could be symptoms of dengue. (Getty Images)

You can contract dengue fever if you are bitten by an infected mosquito. While it’s not usually serious and most people recover on their own after a few days, it can develop into a more severe form of the illness, which can be lethal.

Many of the symptoms are similar to symptoms of the flu. They usually occur four to 10 days after being bitten.

The early symptoms of dengue include:

  • High fever of 40C/104F

  • Headache

  • Pain behind the eyes

  • Nausea and/or vomiting

  • Swollen glands

  • Joint, bone or muscle pains

  • Rash

According to the World Health Organisation, a person who is developing the more severe dengue fever may experience their temperature coming down, but this does not mean the person is recovering.

The "critical phase" of severe dengue occurs three to seven days after the first sign of illness. Warning signs include:

  • Severe abdominal pain

  • Persistent vomiting

  • Bleeding gums

  • Vomiting blood

  • Rapid breathing

  • Fatigue or restlessness

If severe dengue is suspected, the patient should be rushed to emergency immediately. Without treatment, severe dengue can lead to plasma leaking; severe bleeding; and severe organ impairment. In some cases, severe dengue can lead to death.

Watch: Over half of world's population could be at risk of mosquito-borne diseases, experts warn

There is no vaccine or specific treatment for dengue fever, and most people feel better in a few days, according to the NHS.

Symptoms can be eased with rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and taking paracetamol to bring down your temperature and ease pain.

However, you should not take anti-inflammatory painkillers like ibuprofen or aspirin, as these can cause bleeding problems if you have dengue.

Severe dengue patients have to stay in hospital until they recover.

A woman applies mosquito spray to her hands during hiking.
Mosquito repellents can help stop mosquitoes from biting you. (Getty Images)

In order to avoid dengue, you must avoid being bitten by tiger mosquitoes.

The mosquitoes lay their eggs in stagnant water, so staying away from areas and items that collect water can help reduce your chances of coming into contact with them.

You can also reduce the risk by covering exposed skin, which will stop the mosquitoes from having the opportunity to bite you. Wearing long-sleeved clothing and using mosquito repellants can be effective.

Try and stay in a place with screens over the windows and doors, which can help stop mosquitoes from entering the premises.

Mosquito nets, which can be treated with insecticide, also provide additional protection while sleeping.

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