West Nile Virus is established in Greece and each year brings a few more cases, with dozens reported in 2013. In 2012, a few cases of West Nile Virus were confirmed, even outside of swampy areas, and appeared to be clustering in suburbs outside Athens. For 2012, at least one death was reported - that of a 75-year-old man in July. In August of 2010, there was a major outbreak of West Nile virus in Northern Greece, when at least 16 persons were infected with the mosquito-borne illness. Some elderly victims in Northern Greece died of the disease.
While rare, it's worth taking basic precautions and using mosquito repellants.
The Spread of West Nile Disease in Greece and Elsewhere
West Nile virus has become increasingly widespread in recent years, afflicting people and livestock in Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America. While it is called "West Nile" after the location where it was first isolated in Uganda, it probably has been present in many places throughout the world for a long time. Birds are usually the source of a West Nile infection, though mammals, especially horses, can be afflicted by it as well.
How to Avoid It
At this time, acquiring West Nile disease in Greece is an extremely rare occurrence. But it's always a good idea to practice prevention wherever you are, and traveling in Greece is no exception.
- It may be worth the weight and bulk of bringing along one of the hanging personal mosquito-repellent units with a small fan; friends in mosquito-ridden areas have reported that these are very effective and are particularly good for children who may not always be good about spraying themselves with repellent. More on West Nile Virus in children.
- Avoiding marshy areas where mosquitoes are likely to thrive is also a good idea. Dusk and early evening will be the worst time, but in mosquito-infested areas, they may show up during the day.
- Plug-in mosquito repellents are available at grocery stores, mini-marts, and other shops in Greece, though they may not always be prominently displayed. Most hotels and inns in mosquito-prone areas will have these on hand, but you may want to acquire and carry your own. Remember to bring it along when you leave.
- Bring a small citronella candle. While these are available in Greece, it's handy to have your own if you have the opportunity to sit outside on a scenic balcony.
- Yes, it's Greece in summer - but you should still have one long-sleeved blouse or shirt with you. And don't forget a sarong that can help quickly cover up bare legs or arms if you find yourself unexpectedly in mosquito territory.
Is It West Nile Fever?
Most people who contract West Nile will have a moderate to high fever, flu-like symptoms, and in about half of all cases, a rash. The majority of people get over West Nile relatively quickly, and children seem to be particularly resilient. Deaths and complications usually occur only in the elderly, but there are exceptions. Encephalitis is one of the major threats from West Nile, and is usually characterized by a stiff and painful neck in the early stages... so if you have a persistent pain in the neck, you may not want to assume that you just grabbed your suitcase wrong as this disease can be fatal.
Your local Greek pharmacy may be your first line of information and assistance; in Greece, pharmacists are well-trained, usually multi-lingual, and can provide many medications that would require a doctor's prescription in the United States and elsewhere. If no other medical attention is available, a Greek pharmacy can be a good initial resource for the traveler. They will also be keenly aware of any local cases of West Nile or other mosquito-borne illnesses.
Could It Be Malaria?
In recent years, there have been a few instances of cases of malaria apparently contracted in Greece. Malaria used to be an endemic problem in Greece, particularly Crete before modern eradication techniques were employed. Now, only a few cases a year are reported, and none have been confirmed in tourists.