West Nile virus death toll and cases continue to grow in Italy. This is what we know so far – Euronews

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

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

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

In the last week alone, 50 more cases of West Nile fever have been reported in Italy, where infections of the virus have increased 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 up to 144, according to newly released data from Italy’s public health organization the Istituto superiore di sanità (ISS) .

Three other patients have also died in the last seven days, bringing the total death toll from the virus to 10.

Here’s what we know.

How common is West Nile virus in Europe?

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

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

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

But the data shows an alarming fact: of those 120 cases, 94 were reported only in Italy. That is more than three times 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 its territory.

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

Of greater concern is that of those who contracted the virus and developed West Nile fever, 10 people in Europe had died of the disease as of August 11, all in Italy.

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

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

In the last week, the number of infections reported in Italy has risen to 144 as of August 11, with 50 new cases recorded in one week alone.

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

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

Businesses in Italy are largely concentrated in the northwith the city of Padova in Veneto being considered the hotspot of the virus in the country.

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

What are the symptoms of West Nile virus?

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

Symptoms of WNV infection usually manifest themselves in the form of fever accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as headache, 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.

It is known that not all mosquitoes carry the West Nile virus. Scientists have specifically identified the Culex species as the ones responsible for spreading the virus.

But what may sound like very useful information is less than useful, given that there is no striking characteristic feature to distinguish the species, considered the “average Joe” of mosquitoes.

Culex mosquitoes are 4-10 mm, brownish in color, and without specific pattern on their body. They differ from other European mosquitoes by their beak (their small biting “mouth”). Her legs also lack the same pale and dark ring patterns, and her belly remains round instead of flat.

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

When a mosquito is infected with WNV, the virus is transmitted through its bite.

Why are cases of West Nile virus increasing?

Cases of WNV are not new to Italy, but there have never been so many reported in one summer alone.

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

Experts had already warned a few 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 determine the presence of dengue, yellow fever and Zika-carrying mosquitoes in Europe.

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

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

What are Italian authorities doing about it?

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

Italy is recommended people wear long pants and long sleeves when they go out at dawn and at sunset (despite today’s high temperatures), keep mosquito nets on their windows, and make sure that no water stagnates in flower and plant pots, or dogs’ water bowls .

Other recommendations include cutting the grass to prevent mosquitoes from proliferating and introducing fish into ponds and similar so that the insects can be eliminated naturally.

Is there a travel advisory in place for West Nile virus?

There are no travel notifications in place 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 when traveling to an area experiencing cases.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is recommended to stay in accommodation with air conditioning or those with a screen or mosquito net (especially one treated with a permethrin product).

Also use an insect repellent, but check guidance before applying, especially on children and pregnant people.

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

Should you be worried?

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

Those who develop only mild symptoms, 20 percent of infected people, get over the virus in a few days or a few weeks in the worst case, as you would a normal fever.

Older people are more vulnerable to the virus than young people, with most victims in Italy in their late 70s and 80s.

But in Italy, things could get worse before the end of the summer. Virologist Giorgio Palù, president of the Italian Medicines Agency (Aifa), expects that cases will continue to increase until September, as reported by Italian newspaper Il Gazzettino.

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