Increase In Cases Of West Nile Virus Infection In Greece

The Health Protection Agency is aware of a significant increase in reports of cases of West Nile Virus (WNV) in Northern Greece. To date there have been 164 cases and 14 deaths reported in Greece, most of which have occurred in the last month.

There have also been seven confirmed and three probable cases with two deaths seen in Romania and three cases in Hungary. Cases have been reported in these countries in previous years.

Cases of WNV are rare in people in Europe. The infection is spread through mosquito bites, and it is not transmitted directly from person-to-person. The majority (80 per cent) of people infected with WNV will have no symptoms at all and the remainder may experience a mild influenza-like illness (fever, headache, body ache).

A small proportion (less than one per cent) will have more severe disease and may develop inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) or inflammation of the membrane around the brain and spinal cord (meningitis). Most deaths have been reported in those over 50 years old, who generally suffer more severe disease. There is no human vaccine available against WNV.

The current outbreak in Greece does not involve any popular tourist destinations and the risk of catching this virus during travel to Greece remains very low, as is also the case anywhere else in Europe. However, in the light of the current outbreak, travellers to Greece should take particular note of measures to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.

The advice to people travelling in Europe, particularly where West Nile Virus has been reported, is that they should take the usual appropriate anti-mosquito precautions. These include: Wear loose fitting, light-weight clothing that covers up skin as much as possible. Limit outdoor exposure during peak times of mosquito feeding – usually the hours from dusk to dawn – persons are usually exposed in the early morning and evening times.

The safest course is to use repellents when outdoors. Apply insect repellents to exposed skin and clothing. Always follow manufacturers’ directions for use. Repellents that contain DEET are considered the most effective.

Indoors mosquito bites can be reduced by air conditioning, insect-proof screens on windows and doors and spraying the room with insecticide. Bed nets and cot nets can be used if necessary. Mosquito coils can be burned or vaporizing mats used in enclosed areas if needed. Avoid areas where there are likely to be large concentrations of mosquitoes or other biting insects.

Source: Health Protection Agency

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