Spread of the West Nile Virus in Europe



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Mosquitoes transmit the West Nile virus in Europe

The West Nile fever transmitted by mosquitoes is spreading increasingly in Europe. The Center for Travel Medicine (CRM) reports that more than seventy years after the disease was discovered in the West Nile district of Uganda (1937), the virus reached Europe and, like last year, infected several people in Eastern and Southeastern European countries.

According to this, 56 infections with the West Nile virus were reported from Albania, Greece, Romania and Russia and a total of 56 infections. Since the pathogens are transmitted by mosquitoes, travelers should particularly protect themselves from the nocturnal bloodsuckers when staying in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, warns the Scientific Director of CRM, Dr. med. Tomas Jelinek. According to the expert, due to the growing spread of the West Nile virus, the number of diseases is expected to increase. In 2010 alone, 257 people contracted West Nile fever in Greece and more than five percent of the patients died as a result of the infection.

Further rise in the infection rate feared Due to the increased spread of the West Nile virus in the Eastern and South-Eastern European countries, a renewed increase in the infections is to be expected for this year, explained the scientific director of the CRM. According to the information provided by the CRM, the trend continues in 2011 after a significant increase in infections compared to previous years was recorded last year. Experts like Thomas Jelinek "are still expecting numerous infections this summer and the coming autumn." Anyone planning a trip to Eastern or South Eastern Europe should therefore consider adequate mosquito repellent to protect themselves from infection with the West Nile virus , the CRM warns. The health risk of West Nile fever should not be underestimated. In addition to the flu-like symptoms such as fever, muscle and headache accompanied by diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, brain infections (encephalitis) and meningitis (meningitis) can also occur if the course of the disease is particularly severe (about 0.7 percent of infections). Because the virus is able to cross the blood-brain barrier. Other symptoms of West Nile fever include swollen lymph nodes and a rash on the chest, back and arms in around a third of the patients. An infection with the West Nile virus is particularly life-threatening for older people with pre-existing diseases whose immune system is already weakened.

According to the CRM, the first symptoms of West Nile fever usually appear three to six days after the infection. However, the course of the disease in only around one percent of those infected is so severe that treatment is necessary, the experts report. According to this, most people suffer hardly any health problems from the infection. However, this also shows how massively the West Nile virus has already spread in the Eastern and Southern European countries. With 56 illnesses reported to date, the number of people actually infected could already be well over 5,000. An effective treatment of the disease is still unknown, but since many patients are immune to the pathogen after West Nile fever infection, the experts assume that the risk of an epidemic will further decrease with each outbreak.

The West Nile Virus has spread from Africa to Europe and North America in recent decades. While the spread of the virus in Europe has only increasingly become the focus of experts in recent years, the pathogen was identified in 1999 in birds in Central Park in New York in the USA. Between 2002 and 2007, approximately one hundred people died of West Nile fever in the United States each year. Since then, the number of deaths has dropped to around 50 a year. Regarding the pathways of the pathogens, the experts reported that migratory birds often serve as a reservoir for the West Nile virus and mosquitoes are the most common transmitters. In particular, the mosquitoes of the Culex genus and the Asian tiger mosquito, which bite birds and humans, are regarded as bridge vectors that enable transmission from animals to humans. Accordingly, an effective mosquito repellent (insect repellent and body-covering clothing) is the best way to protect yourself from an infection with West Nile fever.

The scientific director of the CRM recommends travelers "to protect themselves against mosquitoes, especially at dusk and at night." So far there is no possibility of vaccination against West Nile fever, but securing your windows and sleeping areas with mosquito nets can increase the risk significantly reduce an illness, explained Thomas Jelinek. According to the experts, the mosquito nets should have a hole size between 1.2 and 1.5 millimeters in order to ensure effective mosquito repellent with sufficient air circulation. When staying outdoors, Jelinek recommends wearing body-covering clothing and applying mosquito repellent to the exposed skin, especially in regions with many mosquitoes. (fp)

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Image: Peashooter / pixelio.de

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