Mosquito-Borne Dengue Fever Rising in Israel

The Health Ministry is warning Israelis to beware of the mosquito-borne infection “dengue fever,” now on the rise in Israel.

Hana Levi Julian, MSW, LCSW-R ,

Sheba Hospital, Tel HaShomer
Sheba Hospital, Tel HaShomer
Yoni Kempinski

Israel's Health Ministry is warning citizens to be on the lookout for mosquitoes this year, for they might be the bearers of bad news.

Dengue fever, also known as "breakbone fever," is on the rise in Israel.

The infection is a virus that is borne by mosquitoes and which may cause fever, headache, continued joint pain, gastrointestinal bleeding and possibly irreversible lung damage. Other symptoms include loss of body fluids and anaphylactic shock. People can even die.

It appears to have been spread by Israelis returning from abroad, according to an article published in the latest edition of The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, entitled Capillary Leakage in Travelers with Dengue Infection: Implications for Pathogenesis.

Professor Eli Schwartz, director of the Center for Geographic Medicine and Tropical Diseases at Tel HaShomer's Sheba Medical Center, wrote that Israeli tourists have been diagnosed with the disease upon their return – mostly from Thailand -- but no locally-spread cases have yet been reported.

Dengue fever (DF) has been one of the most important resurgent tropical diseases in the past 20 years, Schwartz wrote in a previous study. Between 1995 to 2002, there were 149 cases of the disease diagnosed among Israeli travelers, Schwartz wrote, of which 110 were acquired in Thailand. Over a 20 year period, from 1980 – 2000, there was a dramatic geographical expansion of epidemic dengue haemorrhagic fever spanning southeast Asia to the South Pacific Islands, the Caribbean and the American region, Schwartz noted. All are popular Israeli tourist destinations. 

At least 120,000 Israelis visit the southeast Asian nation each year, and yet Thailand is the most dangerous country for dengue fever. “Dengue fever has the potential to become active in Israel as a result of the encounter between the mosquitoes and disease carriers with the virus in their blood,” Schwartz wrote. He and his research team called for a quarantine of those suspected of carrying dengue or Chikungunya – an associated infection – for up to the 5-day incubation period before symptoms appears.

Asian tiger mosquitoes are believed to have reached Israel through imported cars that came through eastern Europe in 2002. Water in the tires provided a breeding ground for the insects.

Thus far, mosquitoes bearing dengue fever and Chikungunya have been found in the Haifa area, Tel Aviv, Modi'in and Jerusalem, as well as other communities in the center of the country. However, only 42 people were diagnosed between 2008 and 2010, including 15 who had actually lived abroad in areas where the disease-ridden mosquitoes were known to exist.