Backpackers spread common tropical disease

New research from Aarhus University shows that many backpackers do not know the risks and symptoms associated with dengue fever. They therefore risk spreading the potentially fatal illness to other countries.

[Translate to English:] Backbackere risikerer at sprede sygdommen til lokalbefolkningen eller andre lande

High temperature, headache and muscular pain. The symptoms of dengue fever, which is a mosquito-borne tropical disease and particularly widespread in Asia and South America, are easily confused with those of normal influenza. Xx That is why backpackers fail to seek medical attention when they fall ill:

"Our study shows that many backpackers are unaware of the disease and therefore do not do anything about the symptoms. However, if left untreated the disease can be fatal.  It is therefore extremely important that backpackers know about the disease," says Bálint Vajta, a ninth-semester medical student at Aarhus University.

Dengue fever is usually a mild illness, but it can be fatal if it develops into so-called dengue shock syndrome ordengue haemorrhagic fever. Each year, 22,000 people die from the disease.

Another good reason to increase awareness of the disease is the risk of infection:

"The longer it takes before you start treatment, the longer the period in which you can be bitten by the Aedes aegypti mosquito which spreads the virus. Infected backpackers therefore risk unwittingly helping to start a local epidemic or taking the disease to other countries," says medical student Mette Holberg, who has helped do the study in Australia.

The past ten to fifteen years have seen a dramatic increase in the incidence of dengue fever in South East Asia and South and Central America.

No money for medical bills

According to Bálint Vajta there are, however, other reasons why backpackers do not go to the doctor:

"Even though your travel insurance will reimburse your expenses, you must initially pay to see a doctor yourself, and this seems be one of the reasons why backpackers on a tight budget refrain from seeing a doctor."

Mette Holberg and Bálint Vajta have interviewed 50 backpackers and employees at pharmacies and youth hostels in connection with a research project undertaken in collaboration with the James Cook University in Australia. Dengue fever is a growing problem in tropical Queensland. The study therefore formed part of a major Australian research project aimed at preventing dengue fever epidemics.

In Denmark, 20-30 cases are registered a year among travellers who have returned home, but the figure is thought to represent only a small fraction of the Danes who have had the disease at some point along the way. There is no vaccine against the disease.


Dengue fever statistics


  • 40% of the world's population is at risk of infection
  • 50 million people are infected annually
  • Dengue fever epidemics occur in more than 100 countries





Further information

Bálint Vajta
+Medical student, Aarhus University
Tel. +45 2890 1500

Mette Holberg
Medical student, Aarhus University
Tel. +45 2945 8144