Cruises not affected by Greece malaria outbreak

First riots, now malaria.  While the protests in Greece over the economy were centered in Athens, near several prominent hotels, the outbreak of malaria seems to be mainly in the non-tourist areas of southern Greece.

While Greece had been malaria-free since 1974, in the last three months there have been six reported cases of malaria in people that had not traveled to a country with a malaria outbreak.  Five of the six people infected were migrant workers and one was a child. There are also documented cases of isolated outbreaks of malaria going back to 2008.

Where is the outbreak?
The area now affected seems to be in the southern Peloponnese and nearby cities of the Evoia area in the east part of Greece.  Nowhere near cruise ship ports.

The Hellenic CDC of Greece (similar to the Centers for Disease Control in the US) has stepped up its surveillance system and is responding with rigorous mosquito abatement in affected areas.  Local health care providers and hospitals in affected areas are alerting the public about the prevention of mosquito bites, to recognize early malaria diagnosis and to seek treatment.

How will this affect cruise passengers?
The areas of Greece in question are not cruise ports or tourist areas.  However, many people who are traveling to Greece for their cruise often include a pre or post cruise stay in Greece.  Once there, it is possible that they may decide to rent a  car or take a tour or deviate off the beaten path.  This is where caution comes in to play.

“These areas are not touristic areas,” says Androula Pavil from the Department of Travel Medicine of the Hellenic Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in Athens. “For the general tourist I would say there’s a very negligible risk,” she stated.

Travelers should still take precautions.   The CDC in Atlanta has not recommended that travelers to Greece take an antimalarial drug.  However, measures to prevent mosquito bites should be taken.

The Health Protection Agency in the UK takes a slightly more aggressive stance. Dr. Jane Jones, a travel health expert at the HPA said, “Although the risk of catching malaria while in Greece is extremely low, it’s important that travellers returning from affected areas seek medical advice promptly if they experience symptoms of malaria, which includes fever, headache and muscle pains.”

Professor David Hill, Director of the HPA’s National Travel Health Network and Centre said, “We already advise people traveling to Greece to prevent insect bites to protect against another mosquito-borne infection cause by the West Nile virus.” There were over 200 cases of West Nile virus reported in Greece last year.

The United States CDC and the United Kingdom HPA agree on the ways to protect from mosquito bites:

  • The use of DEET-based insect repellents
  • The use of an insecticide to kill any resting mosquitoes in a room
  • Use insecticide-treated nets if sleeping outdoors or in unscreened accommodations
  • If outdoors at dusk or dawn, wear long-sleeved and loose-fitting clothing and spray the clothing with a DEET product
  • Protect rooms with outdoor exposure with fine mesh netting which must be close-fitting and free from tears.

If your travel plans for the fall include a cruise in or around Greece and the Greek islands, think about planning you pre or post cruise experience in the main cities and bring some insect repellent with you.

Of course I’m not a doctor or an entomologist but this is what I would do for myself or my family, if we were lucky enough to have a Greek Islands cruise planned for this year.

Headline photo credit courtesy of Crystal Cruises

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