Global warming trends increase West Nile virus prevalence

A new study commissioned by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control found an increase in temperature increases prevalence of mosquito-borne West Nile virus, a threat with global warming trends.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Haifa, and was performed in response to reports of West Nile virus being present in European countries where the disease wasn't previously present. The study observed rising temperature, humidity and rain in relation to the spread of the disease.

Both humidity and a rise in temperature showed a correlation to higher West Nile infections; rain showed no relation. The study gave researchers insight to the way global warming is affecting the risk factor for this disease.

"These results are an additional testament that global warming contributes to the outbreak of mosquito-borne and other temperature-sensitive vector-borne diseases," Dr. Shlomit Paz, who led the study, said. "The indications to this are piling up in different parts around the globe."

Paz said the same trends were found in a number of different countries. This gives insight into new preventative measures that need to be in place to protect individuals from infection.

"We used statistical tools and found that as a result of heat waves, a dramatic increase in the number of cases resulted from increased activity of the virus and a growth of the mosquito population," Paz said.

West Nile virus is spread by mosquitoes that are originally infected when feeding on an infected bird. The infection can cause irreversible brain damage or death through meningitis and encephalitis. Those with weak immune systems are at the greatest risk.

Paz will continue to research the rising prevalence of West Nile Virus through a partnership with French research center CIRAD. The results of the current study can be seen in the online journal PLoS One.

"In our new research our aim is to look for additional potential influences on the spread of the disease, such as the location of mosquito populations or various human aspects," Paz said.