Tiger in Chianti-Country

24. October 2007

More and more animal- and plant species are populating Europe - quite often bringing diseases yet unknown in this region. While more and more endangered species are dying out on other continents, a tiny "predator" recently infected 160 people in Northern Italy with a tropical disease: The Tiger-Midge.

Since earlyJuly at least 160 North Italians in the region of Ravenna fell ill with thetropical fever Chikungunya. It causes fever, headache and joint pains sometimeslasting for months. Carrier of this viral infection is the Asian Tiger-Midge ofthe Aedes genus, actually native in East- and West Africa, Southeast Asia andIndia. In 2005, after two decades of peace and quiet, it caused one of thelargest Chikungunya-pandemics in the countries by the Indian Ocean.

Today in Italy andtomorrow all over Europe?

For thefirst time in 1979, the Tiger-Midge was spotted in Albania, then eleven yearslater in Italy. So far it was verified in twelve European countries. For now itseems that local cases of Chikungunya are limiting themselves, says the tropicbiologist Andreas Krüger, scientist of the German federal armed forces at the Bernhard-Nocht-Institut fürTropenmedizin . In the latest edition of the Epidemiological Bulletin, the Robert-Koch-Institut estimatesthe risk of further spread, especially in the North European regions, as ratherlow, but cannot eliminate it completely. Other tropical diseases might make itto Europe as well. The same midge for example transfers the much more dangerousDenegue-fever.

Chikungunya mostly benign

Even if oneolder multimorbid patient suffering from Chikungunya died, the tropical diseasenormally is not severe. After an incubation periodof three to seven days, the fever starts rising quickly, the patient has aheadache, conjunctivitis, muscle- and joint pains, sometimes persistent formonths. Rashes and erythema can appear as well as petechiae and nosebleed. Accordingto RKI, hemorrhagic histories and deaths are rare. Asymptomatic cases occuroccasionally. The treatment is strictly symptomatic since there is hardly anycure for viruses.

Climate change isaccompanied with species change

Obviouslyrising temperatures and humidity have provided perfect living conditions forthe Tiger-Midge this summer in Italy. Changed climatic conditions might bringthe Krim-Kongo-Virus through ticks to Europe, which is the trigger of thisviral hemorrhagic fever. Up to now, the disease is spread in Asia, Africa,South East Europe and the Middle East. Apart from ticks, house pets are thepathogen reservoir. Another potential danger is Malaria. Just 50 years ago itwas found sporadically in the coast regions of Germany.

39 pathogenic germs in 40years

The World HealthOrganization (WHO) is warning of epidemics in its World Health Report. TheWHO refers this to the cause of an increasing mobility of people thus spreadingpathogenic germs. In the past 40 years, 39 pathogenic germs were discoveredincluding HIV and the Ebola-Virus.They demand international co-operation to secure health worldwide. But otherwell-known epidemics such as Choleracertainly should not be neglected either.

Others are hit even harder

After allit is most likely that not just us Europeans are threatened by epidemics. Atleast we can hope – if and when the real thing happens – officials will actcomparatively fast. The Italians now set off measures to kill the larvae of theTiger-Midge – as critics say – later than possible. The victims suffering fromepidemics were and still are mainly the developing countries having neitheraccording financial means nor the due infrastructure to overcome the epidemics.

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