What we know about the rising number of West Nile virus cases and deaths in Italy

West Nile virus cases are on the rise in Italy.  Should we be worried?

Mosquitoes are known to be the bane of the Italian summer, with the hottest and most humid months of the year bringing an abundance of pesky insects at all times of the day.

But Italians are less prepared to face the threat of mosquitoes that can carry West Nile virus (WNV), a disease native to Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Australia that has recently moved into Europe and North America.

This summer, in particular, has seen a dramatic increase in cases, causing concern among health authorities in Italy.

In the past week alone, 50 more cases of West Nile fever have been reported in Italy, where infections of the virus have surged this summer.

With the latest infections, the total number of cases reported in the northern regions of Veneto, Piedmont, Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna is now 144, according to newly released data from Italy’s public health body, the Istituto superiore di sanità (ISS) .

Three more patients have also died in the past seven days, bringing the total number of deaths from the virus to 10.

This is what we know.

How common is West Nile virus in Europe?

Since 1999, the virus, which causes so-called West Nile fever, has traveled far from areas where it has traditionally been common.

It is now found on every continent on the planet except Antarctica, and in the US it is the leading cause of mosquito-borne disease.

In Europe, it is still relatively rare; according to the latest European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) published on August 3, around 120 cases of WNV had been reported in Europe this year.

But the data reveals an alarming fact: of these 120 cases, 94 were reported in Italy alone. This is more than triple the number of cases reported in Greece (23), the country with the next highest number of cases among the four in Europe that have reported the virus on their territory.

The remaining countries, Serbia, Slovakia and Romania, reported 23, 1 and 2 cases respectively.

More worryingly, of those who contracted the virus and developed West Nile fever, 10 people in Europe had died from the disease as of August 11, all in Italy.

Since the beginning of the year, Italy has reported outbreaks of the virus among equids (horses and others) and birds.

How big is this year’s West Nile virus outbreak?

In the past week, the number of reported infections in Italy has soared to 144 on August 11, with 50 new cases reported in just one week.

The total number of deaths from the virus rose from five to seven in the week between August 1 and 7, with five deaths in the Veneto region, one in Emilia-Romagna and one in Piedmont.

In the last week, the death toll has risen again to a total of 10 victims.

Cases in Italy have been largely concentrated in the northwith the city of Padua in the Veneto considered the hotspot of the virus in the country.

The geographic spread of the outbreak is perhaps surprising given that southern Italy is warmer and wetter than the north, offering what is considered a better habitat for virus-carrying mosquitoes. But the Veneto lowlands, with their natural habitat, are actually the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes; Entomologists this year found that the number of mosquitoes in the area had increased by 27 percent, the Italian newspaper reported. Courier.

What are the symptoms of West Nile virus?

Most people don’t actually develop symptoms at all, while those who do develop symptoms start showing them two to 14 days after being bitten.

Symptoms of WNV infection usually manifest as a fever accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as headaches, body aches and diarrhea.

In rare cases, the virus can cause an infection of the brain and its lining (encephalitis or meningitis) that can be fatal.

Not all mosquitoes are known to carry West Nile virus. Scientists have specifically identified the Culex species as responsible for the spread of the virus.

But what looks like potentially very useful information is not useful considering that there is no prominent characteristic feature to distinguish the species, considered to be the “average” of mosquitoes.

Culex mosquitoes are 4-10 mm, brown in color and without any specific pattern on the body. They are distinguished from other European mosquitoes by their proboscis (their “mouth”) which sting. Its legs also lack the same pale and dark ring patterns, and its abdomen remains rounded rather than flat.

It is unlikely that you will have the opportunity to observe a mosquito long enough to identify it, and if you do, it may have already sucked your blood.

If a mosquito has been infected with WNV, the virus will be transmitted through its bite.

Why are West Nile virus cases on the rise?

Cases of WNV are not new in Italy, but so many have never been reported in a single summer.

Although experts have not yet identified why cases are booming now, recent studies suggest a link between higher temperatures caused by global warming and the explosion of mosquito-borne infections.

Experts had already warned a couple of years ago that climate change could lead to an increase in the number of disease-carrying mosquitoes.

A 2020 study by Imperial College London and Tel Aviv University found that by 2030 higher temperatures could establish the presence of dengue, yellow fever and Zika-carrying mosquitoes in Europe.

The experts behind it the study found that disease-carrying mosquitoes have already benefited from recent climate change around the world, and as this accelerates, more are likely to be introduced into Europe.

A previous study in 2019 it had predicted that disease-carrying mosquitoes will reach 500 million more people worldwide than now, as temperatures rise. Higher temperatures also mean that the breeding season for mosquitoes will become longer and longer, also extending the period of disease transmission.

What are the Italian authorities doing about it?

There is not much Italian authorities can do besides tell people to stay away from mosquitoes, as there is no vaccine available against WNV.

Italy is recommending people wear long pants and long sleeves when going outside at dawn and during sunset (despite today’s high temperatures), keep mosquito nets on windows, and make sure there is no standing water in flower pots flowers and plants, or in the dogs’ water bowls.

Other recommendations are to cut the grass to prevent mosquitoes from proliferating and introduce fish to ponds and the like so that the insects can be eliminated naturally.

Are there any travel tips for West Nile virus?

There are no travel advisories warning about travel to Italy or other affected areas.

However, there are measures, in addition to advice from Italian health authorities, that you should consider if you are traveling to an area with cases.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, staying in air-conditioned or screened or mosquito netting (especially one treated with a permethrin product) is advised.

Also use an insect repellent, but check the instructions before applying, especially on children and pregnant women.

If you use sunscreen, apply the repellant after the lotion.

Should you be worried?

Less than 1% of people infected with WNV (1 in 150) actually develop the most severe symptoms, and only 1 in 1,000 people infected will die from the virus.

Those who develop only mild symptoms, 20% of infected people, outgrow the virus in a matter of days or at worst a few weeks, just as you would with a normal fever.

The elderly are more vulnerable to the virus than the young, with most victims in Italy aged between 70 and 80.

But in Italy, things could get worse before the end of the summer. Virologist Giorgio Palù, president of the Italian Medicine Agency (Aifa), expects cases to continue rising until September, according to the Italian newspaper Il Gazzettino.

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