Student - September 13, 2007

‘Elderly people and children can die from chikungunya’

Will the killer mosquito be the next plague to sweep through Europe? The risk is real, warns Professor of Medical and Veterinary Entomology Willem Takken this week in the regional newspaper BN De Stem. The big danger is not the Asian Tiger mosquito itself but the tongue twister chikungunya virus that the mosquito carries. In Italy this year two hundred people have already fallen victim to the virus, and one person has died.

If the mosquito is not eradicated, Europe may face big problems, fears Takken. The chikungunya virus is already endemic in other parts of the world. Until recently the only people infected in Europe were those who had developed the disease in other regions.

The virus causes flu-like symptoms. ‘Elderly people and children are more likely to die from the disease, but it can make anyone really sick,’ according to Takken. The French island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean experienced a serious epidemic at the end of 2005, in which 213 people died. This year the most cases have been reported in India.

The mosquito believed to be responsible for spreading the virus on Réunion, the Aedes albopictus, has already been found in various North European countries, including the Netherlands. The mosquitoes probably got here through trade in second-hand tyres, which often contain a small puddle of water: an ideal breeding place for mosquitoes. The Aedes albopictus is not yet capable of establishing itself in northern Europe, but in Italy and other warmer areas the mosquito looks set to stay.
A risk assessment group at the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC), in which Takken participated, last year warned of the dangers of chikungunya, while not wanting to be alarmist.

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