As GPs and local authority pest control officers report rising numbers of reports of mosquito bites in the UK the Health Protection Agency has announced that six cases of malaria have been seen in Greece.
A survey of UK local authorities reveals that reports of mosquito bites over the last 10 years are 2.5 times greater than in the 10 years up to 1996.
And NHS Direct statistics show 9,061 calls in England complaining of bites and stings from early May this year to now - up nearly 15% from last summer. Not all bite complaints are due to mosquitoes - many can be attributed to bedbugs, midges and fleas.
Scientists say conditions in the UK, particularly in southeastern England, are increasingly hospitable to mosquitoes. While the HPA says there is no evidence of mosquitoes in the UK carrying malaria it is advising travellers to Greece to take more precautions against insect bites.
Since June the HPA says it has been made aware of six reported cases of malaria in Greece. All six cases were seen in people who had no history of travel to a country where malaria is common. Five of these cases were in Greek adults and one was in a Roma child. This is the third consecutive year that small numbers of cases have been reported in Greece as a result of local transmission.
The Greek authorities have responded to this situation by establishing enhanced surveillance of malaria in the areas where the cases have been identified (the districts of Laconia in the south and Evoia in the east), and intensifying local mosquito control programmes.
Awareness has also been raised among local doctors, and a large-scale communication campaign for personal protection against mosquito bites has been implemented for the local population.
Professor David Hill, Director of the HPA’s National Travel Health Network and Centre said: “The risk to holiday makers of catching malaria while in Greece remains extremely low, so there is no need to take anti-malarials when visiting this country, but travellers should take measures to prevent being bitten.
“We already advise people travelling to Greece to prevent insect bites to protect against another mosquito-borne infection caused by West Nile virus. This can cause a nervous system disease and over 200 cases were reported in Greece last year. The recent cases of malaria in Greece reinforce the importance of taking precautions against being bitten while on holiday.”
Dr Jane Jones, a travel health expert at the HPA, said: “Although the risk of catching malaria while in Greece is extremely low it’s important that travellers returning from affected areas seek medical advice promptly if they experience symptoms of malaria, which include fever, headache, and muscle pains. The HPA is also advising health professionals to consider mosquito borne illnesses in travellers returning from Greece with relevant symptoms and ensure they are tested appropriately.”
The HPA recommends a combination of five different methods to protect from mosquito bites:
- Use of repellents – The HPA strongly recommends DEET-based insect repellents.
- Insecticide - should be used to kill any resting mosquitoes in a room.
- Nets - If sleeping outdoors or in unscreened accommodation, insecticide-treated mosquito nets should be used. Those impregnated with insecticide provide extra protection.
- Clothing -.Where possible, cover up with long-sleeved, loose-fitting clothing, long trousers and socks if out of doors after sunset, to minimise accessibility to skin for biting mosquitoes. Cotton clothing can be sprayed with DEET.
- Room protection - Air conditioning reduces the likelihood of mosquito bite as do ceiling fans. Doors, windows and other possible mosquito entry routes to sleeping accommodation should be screened with fine mesh netting which must be close-fitting and free from tears.