New vector-borne diseases threat in Europe

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and Lyme disease are on the increase in the WHO European Region.

WHO is calling on people to protect themselves from vector-borne diseases. Mosquito, sandfly and tick bites passed diseases to more than 1.5 million Europeans between 1990 and 2010. Outbreaks of exotic diseases, such as chikungunya, are now reported in the WHO European Region. 

Locally transmitted cases of dengue fever, absent from Europe for more than 60 years, have reappeared. Despite rapid progress in eliminating locally transmitted malaria, localised outbreaks were reported in recent years and numbers of imported cases are still high. The health impact and geographic distribution of some long-established diseases in the region, such as leishmaniasis and Lyme disease, are growing.

“There is a clear warning signal to the European Region that diseases carried by vectors may spread and intensify in the years ahead. Globalised travel and trade, as well as Europe’s increased urbanisation and changing weather patterns, are making this possible,” said Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “History shows that, when efforts to prevent and control spread are focused and robust, we can contain or even get rid of these diseases. Otherwise, they can come back and risk settling again in Europe. This is not the time to lower our guard.”

While many Europeans consider malaria a remote disease, 5000 cases were imported into Europe in 2013. Imported cases and recent outbreaks show malaria’s potential to resettle in formerly malaria-free areas, jeopardizing the region’s goal of eliminating the disease by 2015.

 The threat of an outbreak of dengue fever now exists in Europe; in 2010 local transmission was reported for the first time in France and Croatia, and imported cases were detected in three other European countries. Mosquito vectors of chikungunya caused the first European outbreak in Italy in 2007, with almost 200 cases.

Vector surveillance and control, and the early detection of cases in human beings are vital to prevent the re-introduction and re-establishment of mosquitoes, and the spread of the diseases they carry.