“I have to go now mom. I can’t breathe.” The last words of a backpacking son, in the grip of dengue fever, spoke to his mother on the phone in the back of a Thai ambulance

A grieving mother whose son died of dengue while traveling in Asia with friends has spoken out following a global spike in the deadly virus.

Jayne Toulson-Burke, from Stockport, warned travelers to take precautions after the Foreign Office issued a health warning last week amid an ‘unexpected rise’ in dengue cases and deaths. Her son Bob died of dengue in a hospital in Thailand on December 7, 2016.

His last words to his mother during a phone call home while sitting in the back of an ambulance were: “I have to go now. I can’t breathe and they’re putting a tube down my throat.”

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A tearful Jayne told the Manchester Evening News: “That’s the last I ever heard of him. He fell into a coma and never regained consciousness.”

She said her son sounded “worried” and died about a week later in hospital in Phuket, Thailand. Her son started feeling ill when he and his friends flew from Laos to Thailand and he sought treatment at another hospital in Pa Tong, where medics thought it was “just the flu.” He was taken to Phuket, but was never found again.

Asked whether her son’s outcome would have been different if he had known more about the virus, Jayne, 59, a teaching assistant from Davenport in Stockport, said: ‘I have absolutely no doubt about that. He is a sensible boy. be foolish. He doesn’t even like heights. He is a sensible boy. If he had known, if I had known, the outcome would have been very different, because when he was sick the first time, he would have gone and asked for a solution. test.”

She urged travelers to familiarize themselves with the symptoms of dengue fever and “demand” a blood test at the hospital to confirm the presence of the virus and then treat it.

Bob Toulson-Burke, from Stockport, who died of dengue fever in Thailand – Credit: Jane Toulson-Burke

Bob Toulson-Burke, from Stockport, who died of dengue fever in Thailand – Credit: Jane Toulson-Burke

The World Health Organization says around four billion people in 130 countries are at risk from dengue – a virus spread by mosquitoes found in tropical and subtropical areas around the world, including parts of Europe. Travel Health Pro, part of the Foreign Office, has warned that dengue has “spread into regions previously thought to be dengue-free.” As of April 2024, more than five million cases of dengue and more than 2,000 dengue-related deaths have been reported worldwide since early 2024.

An increase in dengue cases is being observed around the world, including in Asia, Central and South America and the Caribbean. Dengue is not endemic in Europe, says Travel Health Pro. But if environmental conditions are favorable in parts of Europe where mosquitoes that can transmit dengue live, travel-related cases could cause the spread of dengue locally. Several European countries have previously reported locally acquired cases of dengue.

In 2023, locally acquired cases were reported in France, Italy and Spain, the Foreign Office subsidiary said.

Jayne was in the passport office in Liverpool arranging a replacement for her expired document so she could fly to Asia when she heard the devastating news of her son’s death from one of her other two sons, Mark, who was in Thailand traveled. to be with Bob.

She is now a campaigning voice to raise awareness about dengue and said: ‘You might think this only occurs in the tropics or Asia. That is not true. It’s in Europe now. If Bob had known, if I had known more about this, he certainly would. have had more chance. People think it won’t affect them, but it could affect them when they travel.”

Her son had quit his job as a personal assistant at a vitamin shake company to travel around Asia, first visiting Vietnam before moving with his friends to Laos and then Thailand. They planned to visit Cambodia.

Jayne, who urged travelers to visit the World Mosquito Program for more information, added: “I want people to see that we were just an ordinary family and it affected us. You don’t have to have a college education to start traveling and be yourself and have a great experience. If this happens to us, it could happen to anyone.”

What is dengue?

Dengue is caused by a virus and is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito that feeds mainly during the day, according to the warning published on the Travel Health Pro website in early May. There are four different types of dengue virus: DENV-1, DENV-2, DENV-3 and DENV-4.

What are the symptoms?

The majority of people infected with dengue will have no symptoms, says Travel Health Pro.

“If an illness develops, it usually starts suddenly with high fever, severe headache, muscle and joint pain, nausea, vomiting and rash. Most infections are self-limiting, with rapid recovery three to four days after the rash appears,” the warning reads.

Are there treatments for dengue?

A small number of infected people can develop a severe form of the disease, called severe dengue, although previously also called dengue hemorrhagic fever. Symptoms of the serious illness include dangerously low blood pressure (shock), fluid buildup in the lungs, and severe bleeding (bleeding). According to Travel Health Pro, all four types of dengue virus infections can lead to dengue or severe dengue.

There is currently no specific drug treatment for severe dengue disease, but there are ‘supportive’ treatments for shock and haemorrhage, which improve survival. Without this help, severe dengue disease can be fatal.

Advice for travelers

Before you leave:

  • Travel Health Pro says all travelers, including cruise passengers, visiting areas where dengue cases have been reported or where dengue is suspected are at risk of infection

  • To assess the dengue risk in your destination and for specific advice on other health risks, please refer to the ‘other risks’ section of Travel Health Pro’s country information web pages

  • Please refer to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) country advice for safety and security information for your destination

  • Check with your GP, practice nurse, pharmacist or travel clinic to ensure all your recommended travel vaccines and UK routine vaccines, including MMR, are up to date

  • A live, attenuated (attenuated) dengue vaccine called Qdenga exists, licensed in the UK, but it is not suitable for all travelers

While you are abroad:

  • Minimize your risk of all insect-borne diseases, including dengue, by wearing long-sleeved tops and long pants and applying insect repellent regularly, according to Travel Health Pro

  • Always adhere to the advice to avoid insect and tick bites

  • Since dengue is transmitted by day-biting mosquitoes, you should take extra precautions during the day, especially around dawn and dusk

  • Remember that dengue is a year-round risk in tropical countries

  • Insect repellent should be applied after sunscreen and reapplied regularly after activities, including swimming

  • Insect repellents containing 50% DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) are currently the most effective and can be used by pregnant or lactating women, as well as children from two months of age

  • If DEET is not suitable, alternative insect repellents containing Icaridin (Picaridin); Eucalyptus citriodora oil, hydrated, cyclized; or 3-ethylaminopropionate can be used instead

  • When staying with friends or family, it is important to reduce mosquito breeding grounds around the home by removing standing water in plant pots, gutters, drains and rubbish.

  • Insecticide-treated bed and crib nets provide good protection against mosquito bites while sleeping during the day

On your return:

Travel Health Pro says that if you experience symptoms such as high fever, severe headache or rash within two weeks of returning from a country at risk of dengue, seek urgent medical attention. Don’t forget to tell your GP or nurse about each country you visit.

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