Cases of chikungunya, a mosquito-borne viral disease, have soared, according to data from Public Health England (PHE).
There were 295 cases in England, Wales and Northern Ireland last year, compared to 24 cases in 2013.
People visiting the Caribbean and South America have been urged to see their GP before travelling, or if they develop a fever, rash or joint pain within two weeks of returning.
Dr George Kassianos, a member of the PHE advisory committee on malaria prevention in travellers from the UK, said that GPs should advise patients to protect themselves from mosquito bites by using insect repellent containing 50% DEET, as no preventative medicine is available.
‘The most important signs to watch for in returning travellers are fever, muscle and joint pains which can be severe, and a maculo-papular rash,’ he advised GPs.
‘In case of suspicion we can seek advice from our local microbiologist and/or PHE as the patient will need to have appropriate investigations for differential diagnosis too.’
Researchers from PHE have also warned that rates of chikungunya, dengue fever and West Nile virus in the UK will ‘accelerate’ in the coming years due to climate change.
Disease-carrying mosquitoes could become widespread as the climate becomes warmer, the study in The Lancet Infectious Diseases found.
Professor Steve Leach from PHE said that there is a ‘need to assess future vector-borne disease risks and prepare contingencies for future outbreaks’.