Tourists headed to Greece are warned about the killer West Nile virus amid a spike in deaths from the mosquito-borne illness
- Greece’s health authority said the virus’s spread is now a ‘public health issue’
- Last year was the worst on record for the mosquito-borne illness
- Wear repellent, use mosquito nets and close windows to avoid the biting bugs
People travelling to Greece this summer should be wary of mosquitoes which may be carrying the deadly West Nile virus.
The country’s health authorities said the virus has become a ‘public health issue’ there after more than 300 people were infected last year.
Fluey symptoms, feeling sick and a skin rash are usual signs of the infection, for which there is no vaccine but which usually goes away on its own.
But it can be deadly and cause meningitis, seizures or weakness in some people – 50 Greek people died of the illness last year.
Officials in Greece said the West Nile virus has spread from rural areas into more populated cities like Thessaloniki and the region around Athens. The British Government warned healthcare may be limited on islands, such as Santorini (pictured)
‘There have been enough cases to know that this is now a public health issue,’ Danai Pervanidou, spokesman for the Hellenic Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, aka Keelpno, told The Guardian.
There were 316 West Nile virus cases diagnosed in Greece last year – a record high.
The infection cannot spread between people and is only caught from mosquito bites. Most people who get it don’t show any symptoms but it can become serious.
Mr Pervanidou added: ‘The virus has established itself in Greece through migratory birds and we are recommending that everyone takes personal protective measures such as wearing long sleeves, avoiding places with stagnant water and using mosquito nets and repellent.’
And he said the virus has spread out of rural areas into the city of Thessaloniki and the region of Attica, which contains Athens.
Keelpno said on its website that although West Nile outbreaks have been recorded in 2010-14 and 2017-18, last year’s took hold particularly early in the year.
It said the first people were likely infected by mosquitoes in May, adding the disease is usually carried by wild birds.
Serious complications were also unusually common in Greek cases last year, with 243 people showing signs of damage to the brain or nerves, The Guardian said.
And only 2012 has had such a big outbreak, when 262 people were diagnosed and 35 died.
People travel from the UK to Greece around three million times per year, alongside almost 30million other tourists. Greece has a population of just 10m people.
The UK Government’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office has added a brief warning about the risk to its website.
It reads: ‘There were more than 300 cases of West Nile virus in Greece in 2018.
‘You should consider preventative measures to minimise exposure to mosquitoes, for example using mosquito repellent when outdoors and closing doors or windows or using screens.’
The FCO also warns that nursing standards ‘lag behind what is normally acceptable in the UK’, ambulance services are ‘basic’ and islands may not have advanced facilities.
West Nile virus only rarely affects travellers from the UK, according to the NHS, and no-one has ever caught it in the country.
People should seek medical help if they develop the symptoms while abroad, because older people, babies and diabetics may be at risk of more serious illness.