Colosseum, Rome, Italy
People walk outside the Colosseum, in Rome YARA NARDI/Reuters

Holidaymakers heading to Italy have been warned of a disease that could potentially be fatal if not treated on time.

Vacation hotspots in Italy saw four cases of dengue fever reported towards the end of August. Out of the four cases, three were from the northern region of Lombardy and one from the central region of Lazio, which includes Milan and Rome, according to a disease threat report by the European Centre for Disease Control (EDCD).

The symptoms of the killer virus include high fever, headache, body aches, nausea and rashes. Most people recover in a week or two. But some people develop severe dengue and need hospitalisation. The illness, transmitted by mosquitoes, can possibly turn fatal if symptoms are severe and not treated. Individuals who are infected for a second time are at greater risk of severe dengue.

Dengue's severe symptoms include bad abdominal pain, constant vomiting, rapid breathing, bleeding gums or nose, fatigue, restlessness, blood in vomit or stool, being very thirsty, and pale and cold skin.

All the recent cases in Italy are believed to have been locally transmitted (autochthonous). Meaning, the disease was picked up in Italy and not abroad. Autochthonous dengue cases were reported in Italy for the first time back in 2020 near Venice. It is understood that the Italian authorities have already begun a huge program of spraying the areas with anti-mosquito chemicals.

"Response and control measures are being implemented by Italian public health authorities. These include case finding, vector control activities, information to healthcare providers and the general public, and preventive measures on blood donors," wrote EDCD on their website.

The EDCD has also warned about further cases that may occur in the affected regions. Therefore, the authorities have tightened their surveillance to detect new cases early, identify transmission chains, define areas at risk and quantify the level of risk.

With the final weeks of summer left in Europe, travellers must take extra care and precautions if they travel to Italy in the coming days or weeks. While the UK Foreign Office has not updated its advisory regarding the latest virus in Italy, its standard advisory urges its people to take appropriate insurance before taking a trip abroad.

"If you choose to travel, research your destinations and get appropriate travel insurance. Insurance should cover your itinerary, planned activities, and expenses in an emergency," according to the UK Foreign Office's official website.

The Dengue virus is transmitted by the Aedes albopictus mosquito, which is believed to be now permanently present in most of Europe. Autochthonous cases have also recently been identified in France. Since the beginning of 2023, 79 imported cases have been identified in Italy.

Dengue, which is also known as break-bone fever, is a viral infection that spreads from mosquitoes to people and is more common in tropical and subtropical climates.