Europe’s Alarming Rise in Dengue Cases Sparks Concern

Europe is currently experiencing a concerning increase in dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases. The European Union’s (EU) health agency has issued a warning that an invasive mosquito species has now spread to numerous EU nations.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) revealed on Tuesday (11 June) that dengue infections are rapidly on the rise across Europe, with some cases turning severe.

Let’s delve deeper into this issue.

What is dengue?

Dengue is a viral infection that is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes. It displays symptoms similar to the flu, such as high fever, intense headache, nausea, vomiting, body aches, and rash, as outlined by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

It is commonly referred to as “breakbone fever” due to the muscle and joint pains it can induce, with initial symptoms appearing four to ten days after being bitten by a mosquito.

In some cases, dengue can be fatal.

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Dengue is transmitted in humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes. Wikimedia Commons (Representational Image)

According to the WHO, the disease is endemic in over 100 countries, with over 6 million cases and 7,000 deaths reported last year.

Increase in dengue cases in Europe

Europe has seen multiple outbreaks of dengue in recent years.

For instance, France recorded 641 confirmed or probable cases of dengue last year. Italy and Spain also reported several infections.

As per the ECDC based in Stockholm, 130 locally-acquired cases of dengue were documented in the EU last year, compared to 71 in 2022, as reported by AFP.

The health agency noted that this marked a “significant increase” from the period of 2010-2021, when only 73 cases were reported.

However, most cases in Europe are imported. These imported infections have also surged from 1,572 in 2022 to 4,900 last year.

According to the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia, Céline Grossner, a leading expert at the ECDC on mosquito-borne infections, cautioned that “the conditions are in place for outbreaks this summer” in Spain.

Causes behind the surge

The ECDC has attributed the increase in dengue cases in 13 EU countries, including France, Spain, and Greece, to tiger mosquitoes.

The health organization stated that climate change is creating warmer conditions that facilitate the spread of these invasive mosquitoes.

Andrea Ammon, director of the ECDC, remarked that “Europe is already seeing how climate change is creating more favourable conditions for invasive mosquitoes to spread into previously unaffected areas and infect more people with diseases such as dengue,” as per AFP.

“What we can see is that there is a connection between a higher temperature in summer, a milder winter, and the spread of mosquitoes further into areas where they are not presently found,” she added.

Tiger mosquitoes, typically found in tropical regions, have now established themselves in Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, and Spain, according to the ECDC.

These mosquitoes can transmit diseases like dengue fever, chikungunya, and Zika virus. Until recently, they were limited to parts of Africa, Asia, and the Americas.

Ammon warned that the increase in international travel “from dengue-endemic countries will also heighten the risk of imported cases, and inevitably, the risk of local outbreaks.”

Although the current number of infections in Europe is relatively low, “we will see an increase in the coming years,” the ECDC director emphasized, as quoted by Independent.

The infections are anticipated to be higher this year due to the unprecedented outbreak in South America and the influx of travelers from affected countries coming to Europe, as reported by La Vanguardia.

“The more imported cases there are, the higher the probability of having local outbreaks,” Grossner stated, according to the Spanish newspaper.

France, which is set to host the Olympics in July, has begun implementing measures to prevent transmission. A French health ministry official stated that authorities are “fully mobilized” and prepared for any potential outbreak, as per Independent.

paris olympics
France says it is ready to handle any possible dengue threat during the July Olympics. AP (Representational Image)

How to stay protected?

The mosquitoes that spread dengue are active during the day. The WHO suggests that individuals can protect themselves by wearing clothing that covers most of the body, using mosquito repellents, and using mosquito nets on windows if sleeping during the day.

The ECDC recommends eliminating stagnant water from gardens or balconies, where mosquitoes can breed.

Ammon advised people to take “personal protective measures” and stressed that “early detection of cases, timely surveillance, further research, and awareness-raising activities are crucial in those European areas most at risk,” according to Independent.

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