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BREXIT: Migrants mean Zika outbreaks in Europe this summer?

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migrant mozzies and global warming to bring Zika, dengue and malaria to Europe Umeå University, Sweden

In the week Nigel Farage suggested the demise of the UK pharmaceutical industry might be a good thing because it would “help the ‘good people’ in the alternative medicine industry“, it has been announced we are likely to see Zika in Europe this summer. 

Surprisingly it isn’t the scientifically and medically-illiterate Mr Farage making this claim, it’s proper science from proper scientists – with none of Mr Farage’s ‘good people’ selling expensive placebos to hypochondriac middle-class hippies in sight. A study led by Swedish researchers has shown the already-established Aedes mosquito population may well spread the Zika virus in Southern Europe.  

In some fairly sophisticated analysis of temperatures, vectorial capacity, basic reproductive number (R0) and air travel patterns suggests parts of Southern Europe are at risk of Zika outbreaks between June and August. For non-epidemiologists vectorial capacity is the rate at which a bloodsucking insect population bites new victims and R0 is the average number of people one person with a given infection will spread it to; for flu it’s under 2, for measles it’s 17.

We know warm climates create the kind of conditions suitable for mosquito-borne illnesses to spreadJoacim Rocklöv, Umeå University

Modelling something like this is very complex but in general, warmer temperatures increase the rate in which female mosquitoes bite (males are vegetarian), virus reproduction and virus transmission risk. This means the presence of an established Aedes mosquito population, the warmer climate and the coinciding peak flow of air travellers into Europe from already-endemic areas for Zika makes Southern Europe fertile ground for Zika.

The study found the risk of will peak between June and August in parts of Southern Europe when the peak flow of air travellers from regions of the Americas affected by Zika coincides with a peak in the Aedes mosquitoes’ capacity to transmit the virus. 

It has been predicted that increasing temperatures will enlarge Europe’s seasonal window for the potential spread of mosquito-borne viral disease and expand the geographic areas at risk in Europe. The threat includes malaria and Dengue as well as Zika – we could even see malaria in the UK in the future. Our lead scientist at Chemex is having an article published on this very subject next month – we will include a link to it here as soon as it’s published. 

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