BACKGROUND: Dengue is a frequent cause of fever in travellers. The true extent is unknown as many infections are asymptomatic or undiagnosed.
METHODS: We used paired sera, with pre- and post-travel specimens from Swiss travellers to tropical destinations, to evaluate the seroepidemiology of travel-related dengue. Post-travel specimens were tested for the presence of IgG and IgM antibodies to dengue antigen serotypes (1, 2, 3 and 4) using an indirect enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). All post-travel sera that screened as positive for dengue IgG or IgM antibodies were re-tested with the corresponding pre-travel sera as paired assays in order to detect seroconversion.
RESULTS: There were 285 travellers with specimens available for analysis. Two hundred and fifty seven of the 285 individuals (90.2%) had negative dengue serology post-travel. Of the remaining 28 cases, 25 were dengue IgG positive and 3 had equivocal results. This corresponds to IgG seropositivity in 8.9%. Eighteen of these 25 individuals had a pre-travel specimen available for testing, of which 15 were positive for IgG consistent with possible past exposure. Three of the 18 had negative serology pre-travel, indicating possible recent infection. This corresponds to an attack rate of possible dengue of 1.1% and an incidence rate of 6.7 per 1000 person-months (95% CI 0-60.0). Two of these three individuals had received yellow fever vaccine for their trip, raising the potential of cross-reactivity. The confirmed dengue attack rate therefore was 0.23% with a corresponding incidence rate of 2.2 per 1000 person-months (95% CI-0-33.1).
CONCLUSIONS: Seroepidemiology provides additional evidence of an appreciable risk of acute dengue infection among travellers to tropical destinations.