Rugby fans travelling to Japan for the World Cup are being advised to consider getting vaccinated in order to avoid contracting a deadly viral brain infection.
English rugby legend John Bentley is among the campaigners raising awareness about Japanese Encephalitis, which is spread through mosquito bites, ahead of the tournament in September.
Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain, an often devastating condition that can lead to death and “acquired brain injury”.
Up to one in three people who develop these more serious symptoms will die as a result of the infection.
However, the condition, which is most common in rural areas in southeast Asia, the Pacific islands and the Far East, is easily preventable with a simple vaccination.
With a month to go until the Japanese Rugby World Cup 2019, more than 600,000 of the 1.8 million available tickets are expected to be held by international fans.
Such mass gatherings can put a huge strain on host countries, and the World Health Organisation and Centre for Disease Control and Prevention have advised all those planning to travel to seek specialist travel health advice first.
John Bentley, known as “Bentos” during his international rugby career, is supporting the campaign to encourage fans to be fully prepared in plenty of time before the games.
He told Sky News: “Supporters, not just rugby players, won’t just take in the rugby, they’ll take in all different aspects of the country and embrace the culture, and perhaps travel into areas where they could be vulnerable.”
Full time carer of a Japanese Encephalitis survivor, Dr Robert Annewandter, is also working with the Encephalitis Society to raise awareness of the condition.
His partner Sophie Williams, 35, contracted Japanese Encephalitis four years ago, while researching the illegal trade in orchids in Bangkok.
She is now a resident in a care home for the elderly in Wrexham, is unable to move and is on a ventilator needing 24-hour care.
Dr Annewandter, 41, said Sophie is not showing any signs of improvement.
He said: “Sophie is not motivated anymore and cries when I come in and see her. She wants the television on all the time and is not engaging in many conversations.
“She has just given up and it is heartbreaking because this can be prevented. It’s devastating really, she is just a different person.
“But she is the love of my life, I would never leave her”, he added.
Dr Ava Easton, chief executive of the Encephalitis Society, said only those expanding their Japan trip to rural areas and neighbouring countries should consider getting vaccinated.
She said: “The message for the Rugby World Cup is that travel health is important, and this campaign that we are running, is encouraging fans travelling to Japan to seek specialist travel health advice which is appropriate to their plans and destinations.
“If they’re just flying in, just to watch the matches in the cities, then really, they probably don’t need any kind of vaccines.
“But people don’t just do that, they often extend their stays and see much of what’s a very beautiful country.
“And if they’re going to be spending extended periods in the countryside, then vaccination is maybe something that they want to talk to a specialist travel health adviser about before they go.”