Europe: West Nile fever is spreading

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Europe: West Nile fever is spreading.

(09/03/2010) West Nile fever is on the rise. Over seventy years after it was discovered in the West Nile district of Uganda (1937), waves of outbreaks are now increasingly being reported from the United States and Europe. Thirteen people have already lost their lives in the latest wave of infections in Greece and Romania, and in the United States an average of more than a hundred people have died of West Nile fever since 2002. Experts fear that the pathogen will also spread further in Europe and also expect increasing numbers of infections in Germany.

In Northern Greece (Central Macedonia), West Nile fever claimed eleven deaths in 150 severe cases in August, and in Romania two of seven people died. 114 patients are still hospitalized in Greece with signs of inflammation of the brain, 80 suspected cases are still being investigated in Romania. However, in only around one percent of those infected, the course of the disease is so severe that treatment is necessary. Therefore, the number of actual diseases in Greece, for example, is probably around 15,000 people.

Most often, those affected suffer from headaches and body aches, often accompanied by vomiting and diarrhea. If the course of the disease is particularly severe (about 0.7 percent of the cases), encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the meninges) can also occur because the virus is able to cross the blood-brain barrier. The disease usually ends fatally only in certain risk patients, such as B. older people whose immune system is already weakened by another disease. The first symptoms appear about 13 to 14 days after the infection, although no effective treatment is known to date - there are no drugs or vaccines. The only advantage is that many patients are subsequently immune to the pathogen after a disease, i.e. H. the likelihood of an epidemic will decrease from outbreak to outbreak.

Nevertheless, local epidemics keep occurring, such as: Already in 1996 in Bucharest, 1999 in Russia and 2008 in Hungary, which illustrate the advance of the disease towards Northern Europe. Jürgen May from the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg explains that "the number of cases (...) in Europe is likely to increase". According to May, the virus spreads unchecked to the north "and there is nothing to prevent Germany from being affected." Klaus Stark from the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin has a similar view but are not available in the USA.

After the West Nile virus was first identified in birds in Central Park in New York in the United States in 1999, the pathogen quickly spread to the various states and cost several hundred people a year from 2002 to 2007. Since then, the number has dropped to about 50 deaths a year as the Americans have been educated about the disease and possible protective measures. In 2009, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recorded 720 diseases with 373 cases of encephalitis or meningitis and 30 deaths.

Migratory birds often act as a reservoir for the pathogen and mosquitoes are the most common carriers of the virus. In particular, mosquitoes of the Culex genus and the Asian tiger mosquito, which bite birds and humans, are regarded as a bridge vector in the spread of West Nile fever. So z. widely used insecticides in the United States to fight the disease. However, effective mosquito repellent (insect repellent and body-covering clothing) also offers a good way to protect yourself from an illness.

Europe is also increasingly affected. "We know infections from humans, for example, from Italy or Portugal, but these were always smaller outbreaks or isolated cases," explains Klaus Stark from the Robert Koch Institute. "And the pathogen may have been introduced to Germany occasionally via migratory birds." However, since the domestic mosquitoes could not serve as carriers in this regard, there has been no outbreak of the disease in Germany so far. However, with the spread of some Clulex genera and the Asian tiger mosquito (bush mosquito), this has changed and the risk of infection is now also quite present here on land. (fb)

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