Mosquitoes in some areas of the Algarve have been identified as carriers of the West Nile Virus, the rare illness that recently affected two Irish holidaymakers in the region. But the Director General of Health (DGS), who revealed the news last week, also made clear that no new cases of infection in humans or birds had been detected.
A spokesman from the General Health Directorate stressed that the virus activity identified in the Algarve is similar to that “in various regions of the Mediterranean since 1998, namely those in Italy and France”. The deputy-director of the DGS, Francisco George, announced that “all the details indicate clearly that the virus identified in Portuguese laboratories is similar to the strain in France or Italy, but less virulent than the American strain”.
An official also revealed that there have been five “suspicious” cases of the virus in the Algarve. But results from tests conducted by the National Health Institute were apparently negative. “There are no reported new cases of infection in humans,” he guaranteed, stressing that no infected birds have been found either.
But the DGS is recommending precautionary measures, advising people living near areas heavily populated by mosquitoes to drain stagnant water, use insecticides, wear protective clothing and apply insect repellent (but pregnant women and children under the age of five should avoid using skin repellents). And officials from the health authorities are continuing to monitor birds (which disseminate the virus through migration) and mosquitoes (which transmit it through their bite), as well as other animals.
Vigilance was stepped up at the end of July, after two Irish tourists contracted the infection while on holiday. Last week, the DGS sent a circular to all doctors, stipulating that residents or visitors to regions of the Algarve, who complain of sudden fever, should be considered possible West Nile Virus victims.
The virus was first discovered in Uganda in 1937; it re-emerged in the 1990s following a period of drought in Africa. Symptoms are similar to those of the ‘flu’: fever, intense headaches and a stiff neck. Specialists indicate there is no cause for alarm, even though incidences of the illness appear to be increasing in Europe, with cases reported in Romania in 1996, Russia in 1998 and in the South of France last year.