Tourists visiting Spain and Italy could be at risk of contracting dengue fever in the future.
European holiday destinations could become hotspots for the nasty viral illness thanks to climate change, experts have warned.
If global warming continues on its current trajectory, the risk of dengue fever in Europe is likely to increase, they say.
The Po Valley in Italy, the Spanish Mediterranean and southern Spain are the areas at most risk, according to research by the University of East Anglia (UEA).
Dengue is a viral infection spread by mosquitoes. Symptoms include a severe flu-like illness, fever, headache, muscle ache, rash, nausea and vomiting.
It is often referred to as 'breakbone' fever due to the excruciating pain it causes.
Mosquitoes that carry and transmit the virus thrive in warm and humid conditions – which could one day include large areas in southern Europe.
The new study was based on data collected in Mexico, where dengue is a common problem.
Researchers looked at the occurrence of the viral illness and climate variables such as temperature, humidity and rainfall, along with other factors.
They then combined their findings with information about EU countries, to model which areas are most likely to be at risk, according to the study, published in the journal BMC Public Health.
‘Our study has shown that the risk of dengue fever is likely to increase in Europe under climate change, but that almost all of the excess risk will fall on the coastal areas of the Mediterranean and Adriatic seas and the North Eastern part of Italy, particularly the Po Valley,’ said lead researcher Professor Paul Hunter.
‘The exact incidence of dengue fever is dependent on several other factors, some of which we were unable to model at this stage.
‘Nevertheless, public health agencies in high risk areas need to plan, implement and evaluate active reporting of mosquito populations and clinical surveillance by local doctors.
‘Work should be carried out to improve awareness of the increased risk amongst health practitioners and the general public.’
The scientists said that while Mexico has less variation in weather during the different seasons than Europe, more work could take this into account.
In July, health officials said that the number of travellers returning to England with dengue fever is rising.
Between 2012 and 2013, officials noted a 58 per cent increase in the number of cases of dengue fever reported among holidaymakers.
Public Health England (PHE) said that in 2013, a total of 541 people returned to Britain with the infection from dengue-affected countries, compared to 343 people in 2012.
Most cases were reported in travellers to India and Thailand, but PHE also noted an increase in cases associated with travel to Barbados during 2013.
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