News: Travel to blame for dengue fever upsurge

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"Fever, intense headache, pain behind the eyes, in joints and muscles, and a rash" - that is how the travel health specialist Masta describes the symptoms of dengue fever. This disease is transmitted by daytime-biting mosquitoes, and the only protection is to avoid bites. "The fever usually settles in five to seven days although full recovery may be delayed by fatigue and depression," says Masta.

The more serious disease caused by the dengue virus is dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF), which is occasionally fatal.

According to the World Health Organization, dengue fever "is now endemic in more than 100 countries in Africa, the Americas, the Eastern Mediterranean, South-east Asia and the Western Pacific". Singapore and Malaysia are experiencing a sharp rise in the number of cases; Singapore had nearly 10,000 last year, and 1,145 were reported last month - normally a time when cases are at their lowest. The country's National Environment Agency is calling for "an all-out war on the Aedes mosquito", which carries dengue fever.

The US Center for Disease Control paints a gloomy picture for travellers: "Prospects for reversing the recent trend of increased epidemic activity and geographic expansion of dengue are not promising." The cause: international aviation. "Increased travel by airplane provides the ideal mechanism for transporting dengue viruses between population centres of the tropics, resulting in a constant exchange of dengue viruses." Taiwan is reporting some success in screening incoming airline passengers for dengue fever, and the procedure may become more widespread.

Masta: 09068 224100; www.masta.org

Train gang hits Milan

Tricksters are using more sophisticated methods to fleece tourists in Europe. The American travel writer Rick Steves runs a Tourist Scam Alert for Europe as part of his website, www.ricksteves.com, and travellers have filed plenty of warnings here to other visitors.

A new scam has appeared at Milan's Centrale station, aimed at visitors seated in first-class carriages waiting for their train to leave. "Four well-dressed Italian men appeared in the aisle, one entered our compartment and announced, 'These seats are taken'," writes Ellen from Salt Lake City. When her husband stood up, "Immediately the other three guys entered the compartment and started a sort of Marx Brothers shuffling around. My husband got manipulated all the way outside to the hallway with one guy facing him." This performance was devised to allow the perpetrators to go through the victim's pockets. The contributor warns: "Never get up if this happens; tell them to find the conductor, just hold your ground or lean out of the window and yell."

In Prague, travellers are warned about thieves targeting tour buses when they arrive at hotels. Jill, a contributor from New York State, reports an incident after her tour group arrived at their hotel in the Czech capital. "As the luggage was being offloaded from the bus, a gentleman offered to help a woman in the group with removing her bag from the luggage hold. She thought that he was from the hotel, and laid her purse [handbag] down next to her carry-on bag. By the time the suitcase was out of the luggage hold and she got her bearings, her purse was gone."

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