European health officials are reporting a spike in locally transmitted West Nile virus (WNV) cases in southern and central parts of the continent.

Image/Robert Herriman
Image/Robert Herriman

In fact, infections have sharply increased in 2018 as compared to the previous 4 years.

A total of 401 autochthonous human WNV infections have been reported by European countries this year, as of 16 August, including 22 deaths, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). The most affected countries include Serbia (126 cases), Italy (123), Greece (75), Hungary (39) and Romania (31). These areas have all been affected by WNV in the past.

Why the increase?

Officials say it is largely due to the early start of the 2018 transmission season in the WHO European Region, which normally lasts from July to October.

This year’s season has been characterized by high temperatures and extended rainy spells, followed by dry weather. Such weather conditions have been conducive to mosquito breeding and propagation.

Given the favorable weather conditions this season, the virus may spread to new areas, thus affecting new populations never exposed to the virus before. In these areas, low general awareness about WNV among the public and both human and animal health professionals might challenge early detection of cases.