What is dengue fever? Climate change could bring disease to UK by middle of century

A British woman was infected with dengue fever in France (Shardar Tarikul Islam / Unsplash)
A British woman was infected with dengue fever in France (Shardar Tarikul Islam / Unsplash)

Mosquitos carrying dengue fever could become established in England by the middle of the century because of climate change, Government health experts have said.

Warmer conditions have allowed the biting insects to spread across much of Europe in recent years, travelling alongside humans and through the transportation of goods.

Asian tiger mosquitoes are known for their striped bodies and potential to spread dengue fever, zika virus, and chikunguya – diseases usually found in tropical regions. They could become established, alongside native Culex mosquitoes, which would thrive in warmer conditions.

In a report about the health effects of climate change, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) warned the mosquito could become widely established across the UK.

Most of England will become suitable for the establishment of new domestic mosquitoes by the 2040s and 2050s, according to the report.

For most of the rest of the UK, these mosquitoes may become established by the 2060s or 2070s.

"Slower and reduced warming is likely to delay these risks by decades or beyond this century," according to the report.

UKHSA chief executive Prof Jenny Harries said: “Things that when I trained many years ago were called tropical diseases will actually become national domestic diseases.”

Officials also said other food- or water-based infectious diseases could become more common, with an increased risk of pandemics.

The Earth has already warmed by 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels and the amount of carbon in the atmosphere means further warming is already locked in, even if emissions start declining overnight.

What is dengue fever?

Dengue fever is an infection spread by mosquitoes. Dengue cannot be transmitted between people.

It usually gets better on its own and it’s rare for people to get a severe type of dengue.

There is no vaccine to prevent dengue and the NHS suggests that the best way to prevent being infected with dengue is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.

There is also no specific treatment for dengue, but people should generally rest, drink fluids, and take paracetamol.

What are the symptoms of dengue fever?

Symptoms of dengue fever are similar to the flu and typically appear between four and 10 days after being bitten.

According to the NHS, the symptoms include the following:

  • a high temperature

  • a severe headache

  • pain behind your eyes

  • muscle and joint pain

  • feeling or being sick

  • swollen glands

  • a blotchy rash made up of flat or slightly raised spots

Where is dengue fever found?

Dengue fever is typically found in tropical parts of the world, such as parts of Africa and Asia, Central and South America, the Caribbean, the Pacific islands, and some southern areas of North America.

However, there is also a risk of being infected with dengue in parts of southern Europe. It has been found in Croatia, France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. Dengue is not found in the UK.