As the UKHSA issues new essential health guidance for travelers going abroad, a leading testing expert warns of the increasing risks of European holidays. The Continental heatwave is leading to outbreaks of West Nile virus, tick-borne encephalitis and other diseases in previously unaffected countries.
School’s out and many Brits are preparing for a well-earned holiday to the Continent. For some of us, it may be the first overseas vacation we have enjoyed since the arrival of Covid. However, a leading testing expert is warning that some European holidays, far from being the relaxing break we crave should, perhaps, come with a health warning.
The heatwave Europe is now experiencing, coupled with the long-term impact of warmer conditions across the Continent, has fueled the spread of new infections into countries that have previously been unaffected. That’s because the hotter climate provides ideal conditions for disease-carrying insects such as mosquitos and ticks to spread into new areas.
Dr Avinash Hari Narayanan (MBChB), Clinical Lead at London Medical Laboratory, says: ‘Many of us have been looking forward to our holiday abroad for months but, as the raging wildfires in Rhodes have shown, sometimes things don’t go to plan.
‘Less dramatic, but as potentially deadly, the long-term rise in temperatures has resulted in the spread of insects carrying harmful diseases (termed vector-borne diseases) into popular holiday destinations in mainland Europe.
‘It’s certainly timely that the UK’s Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has issued a series of “Essential summer health tips for travelers going abroad”. For example, the Aedes aegypti species of mosquito, which can spread diseases such as yellow fever, Zika, Dengue and West Nile virus, has now become established in Cyprus. There were over 1,130 human cases of West Nile virus and 92 deaths last year, with cases reported in Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Slovakia and Spain.
‘The good news is the West Nile virus is normally almost symptomless. However, people aged over 50 or with comorbidities such as cancer, diabetes or hypertension, are at risk of getting seriously ill and an infection may lead to fits, meningitis or encephalitis (swelling of the brain).
‘To prevent infection by mosquito-borne diseases, we advise people in affected areas to always:
- use insect repellents (for example, 50% DEET).
- cover exposed skin
- wear long sleeves and trousers
- sleep under an insecticide-treated mosquito net
‘Mosquitoes are not the only insect capable of causing health problems. There is also the increasing threat of diseases carried by ticks. Perhaps the most concerning of these is the tick-borne encephalitis virus. Very rare in the UK, this potentially fatal illness is increasingly common in a number of European countries and, like the West Nile virus, can lead to severe infections such as meningitis or encephalitis.
‘One other potential danger many of us don’t consider when we travel abroad is that we may encounter plants, foods or insects we’ve never experienced before. This is increasingly likely as species settle in new areas of Europe that they have not previously inhabited.
‘You may be feeling adventurous and want to try camel’s milk, swordfish or thornback ray for the first time. You may be staying in an area where cypress trees, date palms or weeping figs are common, or where you might encounter a German cockroach or paper wasp. Potentially, these can all trigger allergies.
‘Rather than find out the hard way if you are allergic to something you’ve not encountered in the UK, it’s better to take an allergy blood test. For example, London Medical Laboratory’s Allergy Complete blood test can detect 295 known allergens – substances that may trigger an allergic reaction in some people – and identify those which you are more susceptible to.
‘We’ve looked at some potential health risks linked to a European vacation but, hopefully, we’ve also shown that, with a degree of preparation and some common sense, we should all be able to enjoy a healthy holiday.
‘For anyone concerned about their potential reaction to a sting or bite, as well as certain foods or other allergens, London Medical Laboratory’s Allergy Complete is the UK’s most comprehensive allergy test. It can be taken at home through the post, or at one of the many drop-in clinics that offer it across London and nationwide in over 95 selected pharmacies and health stores.