Danger from the tropics: Humans can also become infected with the West Nile Virus
In the past year there has been numerous evidence of West Nile virus infections in birds and some horses in Germany. According to experts, climate change could also contribute to the spread of the virus in Germany. There is also a risk of infection for humans.
Global warming could be a reason for the increasing spread of the West Nile virus in Central Europe and recently also in Germany. As the University of Leipzig explains in a message, the virus, which originates from Africa, primarily affects birds, which, due to their long flight distances, also carry it into the local area. But people can also become infected.
Virus is transmitted by mosquitoes
The West Nile virus is transmitted by mosquitoes and can trigger the tropical disease West Nile fever in humans and horses.
"Around 80% of human infections are without symptoms, and almost 20% with mostly mild and non-specific symptoms such as fever or rash," wrote the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) in a message.
"Only less than 1% of all those affected - usually the elderly with previous illnesses - develop meningitis (meningitis) or, less frequently, inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), which can be fatal," says the RKI.
The disease is often fatal in horses and birds. Birds that died of the West Nile Virus were found in Germany for the first time last year.
Numerous horses died
"In the past few months, the focus of infection has been in central Germany," explains Prof. Dr. Thomas Vahlenkamp, Director of the Institute of Virology and Dean of the Veterinary Faculty at the University of Leipzig.
For example, several horses from the region were brought to the university's horse clinic, where the West Nile virus was found. According to the expert, numerous horses have already died in Germany from the viral disease, which is a notifiable animal disease.
“Humans are not a danger as a source of infection. Birds contract it and mosquitoes usually transmit the virus to horses and humans, ”explains the veterinary virologist. Raven birds are particularly at risk. In the zoos in Leipzig and Halle, eagle owls, owls and flamingos were also affected.
Climate change contributes to the spread of the virus
As stated in the communication from the University of Leipzig, climate change could also contribute to the spread of the virus in Germany. Even at slightly higher temperatures, the mosquitoes multiply more and thus increase the risk of infection with the West Nile virus.
"It is conceivable that infected mosquitoes spend the winter in our rooms or stables and that the virus will be transmitted from spring onwards," said Vahlenkamp. In human medicine, there is currently no prophylactic therapy or vaccination to prevent infection with the West Nile virus.
The only way of prevention is to prevent mosquito bites as much as possible. Outdoor mosquitoes can be kept away using special mosquito repellents. Loose clothing also protects against the pests. Tight-fitting fabrics are usually not an obstacle for mosquitoes.
An effective protection against mosquito bites indoors is to exclude the bloodsuckers by attaching mosquito nets or fly screens to windows and doors. Certain herbs such as basil, chives and lemon balm on the windowsill are easy to use and effective.
Mosquito nets over the bed are also suitable for a good night's sleep.
The Usutu virus is also spreading
In addition to the West Nile virus, the Usutu virus is also on the rise in Central Germany. Usutu viruses were first detected in mosquitoes in Germany a few years ago. The result was bird extinction, with blackbirds and owls particularly affected.
The pathogen can also be transmitted to humans via mosquitoes and can cause fever, headaches and rashes and - as a dangerous complication - brain inflammation.
According to experts, the risk of illness is very low. “So far, only a dozen cases are known worldwide in which people are actually affected by the Usutu virus. Several of them were also proven to be risk patients with weakened immune systems, ”explains the State Association for Bird Protection in Bavaria (LBV) on its website. (ad)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.