Dengue fever hits Madeira16th October 2012
European health officials in the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira say they have confirmed 18 cases of dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease also known as "breakbone fever" because of the severe pain associated with it.
Another 191 are likely to have been infected, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), which monitors disease in the European Union.
The agency said that the outbreak was of a significant size, but that it was not entirely unexpected.
Dengue is carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which are well-established in the island chain.
The ECDC said in a statement that Portuguese public health authorities are implementing control measures to reduce the risk of sustained transmission locally.
They were also working to minimise the export of infected mosquitoes from the island, and the impact of the disease on the affected population.
Local transmissions of dengue fever are a relatively recent phenomenon in Europe, with the first cases recorded in 2010, in Croatia and France.
Greece also reported that the death of an 80-year-old man was attributed to dengue in the first case seen in the country since an outbreak in 1926-1927.
However, tourists are not being advised to stay away from the islands.
Further advice for visitors and residents alike would depend on how the outbreak developed in the next few weeks, and how effectively the authorities were able to control the spread of infections.
However, the ECDC said people in Madeira should protect themselves against mosquito bites, especially when dengue-carrying mosquitoes are most active, during daylight hours.
Health officials have been keen to stress that dengue fever cannot be transmitted between people, and is only caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.
According to Jane Jones, a travel-associated infection expert at the Britain's Health Protection Agency (HPA), people should cover up with long-sleeved tops and trousers, and regularly apply insect repellent.
Dengue has been spread around the world rapidly from tropical countries to large, urban centres over the past five decades, with a 30-fold increase in the number of reported cases.
The viral disease can result in just a mild, flu-like illness, to rashes and severe bone pain, which occur in around 5% of patients.
Dengue is believed to infect around 50-100 million people annually around the world, causing an estimated 20,000 deaths, according to figures from the Geneva-based World Health Organisation.
However, the majority of cases are still clustered in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific.
EU officials have called on the authorities in the neighbouring Canary Islands and other EU member states to stay alert for the presence of the Aedes aegypti mosquito in order to assess the risk of the dengue outbreak spreading any further.
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