Researchers at Umeå University said on Monday that the spread of dengue fever to Europe is imminent, and politicians and policy makers need to create and implement preventative measures.
The research team credited changing climate and rising temperatures in Europe with increased habitations for the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which spreads the disease. Several cases of dengue have been reported in France and Croatia.
"The last outbreak of dengue in Portuguese Madeira when several thousand became ill, shows that it is no longer a theoretical possibility that the disease can take hold in Europe. It is a reality that can strike at any time," Raman Preet, a Umeå University Department of Epidemiology and Global Health researcher and scientific project manager of the Dengue Tools project, said. "When the disease shows up in Europe it has probably accompanied travelers in areas in the world where the disease is established. Then it will be spread with the help of the Aedes mosquito."
Jing Helmersson, a Ph.D. student in the DT project, said previous models that showed the spread of the disease and mosquito habitations are not enough. Models must include changes in climate.
"In our analyses, we can see that climate change, including the extreme weather with large daily temperature fluctuations in different areas of Europe, causes a large relative increase in the potential for epidemic spread of dengue fever," Helmersson said. "It mainly concerns areas in southern and central Europe where the potential for proliferation previously has been small. At the same time we see that the spread potential will decrease in warm areas of the world, because the temperatures get too high."
Helmersson said mapping must continue in order to have a better understanding of what dengue fever might look like in the future.
"Perhaps the most important of these studies is that they give us a better understanding of the risks of a future epidemic of dengue fever," Helmersson said. "This type of modeling where we use weather and climate data makes it possible to forewarn the authorities in countries that are at risk of dengue epidemics, so that they in turn can prepare and start to act."