How we can protect ourselves from dengue fever

In Latin America and the Caribbean, dengue fever is again more rampant in 2019 than in the last two years. The CRM Center for Travel Medicine urgently advises travelers to protect themselves from mosquitoes, which are mostly active during the day, with mosquito-repellent substances and appropriate clothing.

In the first seven months of this year, more than two million people in Latin America and the Caribbean have contracted dengue fever and more than 700 have died from it. "We therefore always advise travelers to these regions to protect themselves from the vector mosquitoes," says Professor Jelinek, scientific director of the CRM Center for Travel Medicine. Especially Brazil, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Belize, Colombia, El Salvador, Paraguay and Venezuela report high numbers of cases. In Brazil alone there have been well over 800,000 confirmed dengue cases. 643 dengue infections were reported to the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin in the first half of 2019. Most of the travelers were infected in Thailand, but tourists from South and Central America have also been affected: They were mainly infected in Brazil, Cuba or Mexico.

Dengue fever is caused by a virus that is transmitted with the help of a diurnal mosquito. At the moment there is no vaccination against the four different virus types that has been approved for travelers. The CRM therefore recommends all travelers to these countries to wear light-colored clothing that is as closed as possible and to also impregnate thin fabrics with an insect repellent, as mosquitoes can bite through fine fabrics. One of the mosquito repellants with the active ingredient DEET (diethyltoluamide) should be applied in a concentration of at least 30 percent to exposed areas of the skin. These repellents protect against most stinging insects for at least three hours; after that they have to be reapplied. The travel doctors also advise sleeping under mosquito nets for safety.

If an infection does occur, after a few days flu-like symptoms appear, such as high fever, severe headache, pain in the limbs and tenderness behind the eyes; often a temporary rash also occurs. "Anyone who experiences flu-like symptoms during or after a trip to Latin America or the Caribbean should definitely consult a doctor immediately," advises Professor Jelinek. If the symptoms are diagnosed in good time and the symptoms are adequately treated, a severe course of the first infection can usually be prevented.

After infection with one of the four virus types, one is resistant to it. A second infection with a different type of virus could make the disease more severe. "We therefore recommend that you be particularly careful when you travel to a dengue area again," emphasizes the expert.

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