Via The Globe and Mail, a Reuters report: From Zika to dengue, a warming Europe faces new disease threats. Excerpt:
Europe is facing a growing risk of new disease outbreaks – which may prove difficult to quickly detect and stop – as rising temperatures make the region more vulnerable to illnesses brought in by travelers and trade, a leading health expert warns.
Tick-carried Lyme disease, for instance, is gaining ground from Russia to Britain to Croatia as temperatures rise, while dengue fever – carried in by travelers – risks gaining a foothold in southern European countries such as Italy and Greece.
West Nile virus and malaria are also growing concerns, as is Zika, scientists say.
“The European Union is a hot spot for the emergence of communicable diseases, and is highly connected to other hotspots,” said Jan Semenza, who heads scientific assessment for the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), based in Sweden.
With 590 million people arriving at European Union airports in 2015 – one of the busiest airspaces in the world – and changing climatic conditions in many parts of Europe making it easier for arriving diseases to survive and spread, the threat of one becoming established is growing, Semenza said.
Today 61 per cent of public health outbreak threats tracked in Europe are driven by globalization – including travel and trade – and environmental change, he said during a discussion at the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London this week.
What is particularly worrying is that only a few European countries – including Britain and Spain – say they feel their disease surveillance systems are up to the task of tracking the new threats, he added.
“Most European surveillance systems said they can’t handle climate change,” Semenza said.
The ECDC, established in 2005 in the wake of concerns about the spread of Asian flu and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), is getting better at tracking and predicting disease outbreaks “that could overrun the system – catastrophic events, things we can’t cope with,” the researcher said.
Scientists, for instance, have combined information on where dengue mosquitoes could survive in Europe, and during which months, with data on where and when passengers from dengue-outbreak countries are arriving in Europe.
That has led to airports in Milan and Rome, for instance, receiving alerts when the risk of dengue transmission is highest, to help them step up surveillance of arrivals during that period, Semenza said.