Dengue and overseas workers: what you need to know

Overseas workers in tropical climes may be at risk from the dengue virus – with many employers lacking the basic knowledge to keep them safe.

Earlier this month, the Department of Health of the Philippines declared a ‘national epidemic’ of the disease after more than 146,000 cases were diagnosed in the first half of 2019 – resulting in more than 600 deaths.

Among those infected were 120 Chinese nationals employed at a coal-powered power plant in Mariveles, Bataan province. Although there is nothing to suggest employers were negligent in this particular case, it highlights the risks faced by overseas workers in dengue zones.

Knowing a little about the disease – including what symptoms to look out for and how to reduce vectors locally – is an important first step in keeping workers safe.

Incidences of dengue, a mosquito-borne virus, have grown dramatically around the world in recent decades. It is now endemic in more than 100 countries including in Africa, the Americas, the Eastern Mediterranean, South East Asia and the Western Pacific.

Dengue can be characterised as a severe flu-like illness and is generally non-fatal. Those infected will have a high fever (40ºC) and usually two or more of the following symptoms: severe headache, pain behind the eyes, muscle and joint pain, nausea, vomiting, swollen glands or a rash.

These symptoms usually last between two to seven days, with the virus having an incubation period of four to ten days following a mosquito bite.

The severe form of dengue – which can be fatal – usually manifests three to seven days after the initial symptoms in conjunction with a decrease in temperature (38ºC). Things to look out for include severe abdominal pain, persistent vomiting, rapid breathing, bleeding gums, fatigue, restlessness and blood in vomit.

Dengue is caused by a virus of the Flaviviridae family and consists of four distinct strains. Recovering from one strain provides partial and temporary immunity to the other strains, but a secondary infection, when it does occur, increases the risk of developing severe dengue.

What that means in practice is that foreign employees hailing from countries with no incidences of dengue may be particularly prone to the disease.

So what can employers do?

The World Health Organization recommends combatting mosquitos locally in order to prevent bites and thus new infections. This can include: removing artificial man-made habitats; applying insecticides to outdoor water storage containers; disposing of solid waste properly; and preventing mosquitos from accessing egg-laying habitats through environmental management.

An important component of any dengue-prevention or response programme is to ensure it is overseen by experienced professionals familiar with both the virus and its symptoms.

Tangiers International’s Integrated Medical Services Solutions provides everything from medical evacuation by air to health-risks consultancy and medical training for on-site staff.

By accessing expert advice and the know-how of local field agents, companies can dramatically reduce the risk they face from dengue – as well as a whole range of other infectious diseases.

The threat from dengue may be increasing, but companies and organisations which operate abroad are more than capable of taking effective steps to counter it.