Fever Outbreak Linked to Climate Change
Newsday, The Associated Press, Nov. 28, 2007
An outbreak in Europe of an obscure disease from
Nearly 300 cases of chikungunya fever, a virus that previously has been common only in Africa and Asia, were reported in
"We were quite surprised," said Stefania Salmaso, director of
While the outbreak was largely the result of stronger trade and travel ties, some experts believe it is a sign of how global warming is creating new breeding grounds for diseases long confined to subtropical climates.
Officials at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said the particularly mild winter in Italy allowed mosquitoes to start breeding earlier than usual, giving the insect population a boost.
"This outbreak is most important as a warning signal," said Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, a climate change expert at the World Health Organization. "Climate change affects the breeding of every mosquito on earth."
More mosquitoes will mean more disease. With warmer temperatures in the future, Europe and
"With more movement of people and a changing climate, there will be shifting patterns of disease," Campbell-Lendrum said. "We need to be prepared for more surprises like this in the future."
Italian officials first grew suspicious in July, when dozens of people in the country's northeast complained of fevers, joint pain, headaches and rashes. Local doctors thought they had been bitten by sandflies, but lab tests confirmed chikungunya fever, a disease spread by mosquitoes.
Officials believe the virus arrived when a tourist from
Experts are also nervous because the Asian tiger mosquito might be capable of spreading more dangerous diseases like dengue fever and yellow fever.
"Dengue would certainly be more worrying than chikungunya," said Dr. Denis Coulombier, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control's head of preparedness and response. "It is something we need to keep an eye on, because the possibility is there."
Most scientists think
But development doesn't deter all mosquitoes. Certain species prefer artificial breeding sites like rain-filled gutters and plastic containers. "If the climate gets suitable enough, then even very high living standards won't necessarily protect you," Campbell-Lendrum said.
Other European countries should pay attention:
As long as temperatures keep rising, health officials say disease detection and response systems need to be reinforced.
"Climate change is one more factor pushing us in the direction of more disease," said Campbell-Lendrum. "With warmer weather, it is very likely we will have diseases popping up in
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