Visiting Italy? Get your shots

This past summer, Italy was hit with an outbreak of chikungunya, a tropical disease related to dengue fever and spread by tiger mosquitoes, an insect newly at home in a waming Europe.

Aided by global warming and globalization, Castiglione di Cervia has the dubious distinction of playing host to the first outbreak in modern Europe of a disease that had previously been seen only in the tropics.

“By the time we got back the name and surname of the virus, our outbreak was over,” said Dr. Rafaella Angelini, director of the regional public health department in Ravenna. “When they told us it was chikungunya, it was not a problem for Ravenna any more. But I thought: this is a big problem for Europe.”

Although not generally fatal, chikungunya is a fairly nasty disease. In August, dozens of people in a small Italian village came down with mysterious 104-degree fevers and debilitating joint pain. Many still suffer from disease-related arthritis.

For now, cold winter weather has brought an end to mosquito season in Italy. Health officials can’t predict what will happen next summer, but one thing seems likely: 2007 won’t be the last outbreak of the disease in Europe.

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