Disease outbreaks to increase as weather warms

EUROPE could face an increase in outbreaks of diseases carried by insects and rodents as the climate on the continent becomes hotter and wetter, health experts said yesterday.

“These diseases are closely linked with climate change ... We need to address this risk,” Renaud Lancelot of the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development said.

Lancelot was one of 23 health experts attending a two-day European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)) meeting on the risk of so-called vector-borne diseases or illnesses carried by mosquitoes, sand-flies, ticks and rodents.

“The climate and environmental changes being predicted by experts will alter the risk to Europe from vector-borne diseases,” ECDC head, Zsuzsanna Jakab, said.

“We are likely to see the spread of diseases such as tick-borne encephalitis, or even chikungunya fever, to places where they have not been seen before,” she added.

In addition to climate change, the agency said the risk of such vector-borne diseases was growing due to “globalisation and the increased travel and trade it brings.”

An example was seen last year, when a traveller, infected in India with chikungunya fever, was bitten in northern Italy by a type of mosquito that can carry the disease.

Nearly 250 people subsequently came down with the illness in what some experts said could be the first such outbreak outside the tropics.

The agency cautioned tick-borne encephalitis, a dangerous infections of the central nervous system, had been spreading rapidly across the continent.

“The number of human cases in all endemic regions of Europe has increased by almost 400% in the past 30 years,” it said.

“We have to prepare for these risks,” Denis Coulombier, the head of the ECDC’s Preparedness and Response Unit, said.

“We need to have the capacity to rapidly respond when [these diseases] emerge,” he said.

Tick-borne encephalitis, or TBE, is a human viral infectious disease involving the central nervous system. The disease is most often manifest as meningitis (inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord), encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), or meningoencephalitis (inflammation of both the brain and meninges).

Chikungunya fever, is a viral illness characterised by severe, persistent, joint pain but is rarely life-threatening.


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