There are dozens of things that travellers know and love Greece for. It’s a country of fine wine and beautiful architecture. It’s a land of poetry, and drama, and romance. Its history and culture are rich with larger-than-life myths and legends. As of right now, though, there’s something else it’s full of; life-threatening mosquitoes.
The words’ mosquitoes’ and ‘Greece’ don’t tend to go together in most people’s heads. When we think of Greece, we see beaches of beautiful white sand, open-air restaurants serving cooked meat in pitta bread, and all the temples. The Parthenon, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and the Temple of Athena Nike have been well represented in popular culture for years.
The scenery of Greece does more than just attract visitors to the country - it’s used in all spheres of entertainment to attract the attention of those who see it. There are scores of UK slots games which are based around the myths and legends of Greece. Check any online casino website, and you’ll find UK Slots games like ‘Zeus: God of Thunder’ which rely on classic Grecian imagery to entice players into parting with their money. The lure of Greece is a strong one- it wouldn’t be so popular with casino game developers if it wasn’t - but as of right now, it would be wise to check out the latest travel advice about the country before you decide to head there.
We usually associate mosquitoes with the African continent, but in truth, they exist all across the world and can thrive in warm weather conditions. Greece is enjoying a hot summer, and mosquitoes are appearing in record numbers.
Mosquitoes are a nuisance - and a potential disease-carrier - in any circumstances, but this year in particular they’re responsible for an outbreak of West Nile virus, which was linked with fifty deaths inside Greece last year. Doctors and travel experts fear the number will be far higher over this summer if travelers don’t take the proper precautions before entering the country. The fifty deaths that occurred because of the illness in 2018 came from 318 confirmed infections, which gives West Nile virus a fatality rate of more than one in seven.
West Nile virus is so named because of its origins. The first known cases occurred in the West Nile region of Uganda in 1937, but the West Nile fever brought on by the virus wasn’t observed elsewhere until 1999. There have now been cases reported on every major continent on Earth other than South America. As no vaccine against the virus exists, it’s recommended that tourists use preventative creams and lotions, and sleep under a mosquito net at night in order to stand the best chance of avoiding infection. Wearing long sleeves at all times has been recommended as a preventative measure, as has been avoiding pools of stagnant water - which attract mosquitoes - while outside.
It’s believed that the current strain of West Nile virus inside Greece came from migrating birds. Mosquitoes then feed on the blood of birds who carry the infection, and pass the infection on by biting humans.
If you still intend on traveling to Greece, it’s important to know what to look out for. Many cases of West Nile virus come without symptoms, in which case the infection isn’t serious enough to pose a risk to life. With more serious cases, flu-like symptoms including severe headaches and high temperatures are often the first sign that something is wrong. When an infection becomes acute or dangerous, the symptoms become more like those seen in meningitis. West Nile fever can result in the paralysis of limbs, and the loss of speech. In the event that any such symptoms occur in you or somebody you’re traveling with while in Greece, then medical attention should be sought urgently. Older travelers, or those who have pre-existing health conditions, are thought to be most at risk.
The current outbreak of the illness in Greece is the worst the country has seen since 2012. Travel warnings have already been issued to citizens by the United Kingdom and the United States of America, along with many other nations.
Greece is not the only country currently suffering from a West Nile virus outbreak. The first reports of the disease arriving in America this year have now been received, with three confirmed cases in Michigan. Continental Europe is also bracing itself for an influx of cases. Although most people still consider mosquitoes to be a tropical pest, changes in the global climate in recent years have seen them gradually start to move further north of the equator. There were over one hundred cases in the south of Italy last year, and the same again in Serbia. France and Romania, which are even further north, have also treated patients for the illness. There have not yet ever been any confirmed cases in the United Kingdom.
It isn’t known why the fatality rate in Greece last year was so high. According to information provided by the World Health Organization, only around one in every 150 people who contract the disease is likely to become seriously ill, and death is only likely to occur if the illness attacks the central nervous system. It’s possible that the apparently 16% mortality rate in 2018 was caused by under-reporting of infections. As we covered above, many infections present no symptoms at all, so it’s likely that there were considerably more people who were infected with West Nile virus but were never aware of it.
As the reported infection occurred in various different locations within Greece last year, no one location has been singled out in the travel advice issued by the British and the Americans. Therefore travelers should take caution no matter which part of Greece they’re going to, and however warm or cold the weather there appears to be. It’s likely that the advice will remain in place until the end of the summer, when mosquito numbers drop, and the risk of infection is less severe.