Thursday, June 12, 2008

More Disease Outbreaks in Europe with Climate Change: Experts


STOCKHOLM (AFP) - Europe could face an increase in outbreaks of diseases carried by insects and rodents as the climate on the continent becomes hotter and wetter, EU health experts said.

"These diseases are closely linked to climate change ... We need to address this risk," Renaud Lancelot of the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) told reporters in Stockholm Thursday.

Lancelot was one of 23 health experts from across Europe attending a two-day European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) meeting on the heightened 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 in a statement.

"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 European Union agency also said the risk of such vector-borne diseases, which affect millions of people worldwide each year, was growing due to "globalisation and the increased travel and trade that it brings."

An example of the increased threat was seen last year, when a traveller who had been infected in India with chikungunya fever was bitten in northern Italy by a type of mosquito that can carry the disease and that recently arrived in Europe.

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

"Authoritative climate scenarios for the future predict that many parts of Europe will become hotter and wetter," ECDC said.

"These changes are likely to impact on disease vectors, such as mosquitoes transmitting West Nile fever, chikungunya fever and possibly even dengue or Rift Valley fever," it added.

The agency cautioned that tick-borne encephalitis (TBE), which is considered one of the most dangerous infections of the central nervous system in Europe, had also been spreading rapidly across the continent.

"The number of human cases in all endemic regions of Europe has increased by almost 400 percent in the last 30 years," it said.

"We have to prepare for these risks," Denis Coulombier, the head of the ECDC's Preparedness and Response Unit, told the Stockholm press conference.

He called for health care workers and laboratory technicians across the continent to read up on vector-borne diseases to make sure they recognise them before they can cause a large outbreak.

"We need to have the capacity to rapidly respond when (these diseases) emerge," he insisted.

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