Zika in Europe: an underestimated emergency?

Between Climate Change and Health Risks

The Zika alarm has brought attention back to the growing concern for vector-borne diseases in Europe, with a particular focus on the risks that the Zika virus poses to the continent. Originally identified in Uganda in 1947, the Zika virus has spread significantly in various regions of the world, including Europe, where the first locally transmitted cases by mosquitoes were reported in 2019.

What is the Zika virus and how is it transmitted

The Zika virus is primarily transmitted by mosquitoes of the Aedes genus, active especially during the day. Most infections are asymptomatic, but symptoms, when present, include fever, rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pains, general malaise, and headaches, which generally resolve within 2-7 days. Pregnancy is a period of particular vulnerability, as the infection can cause microcephaly and other congenital malformations in the fetus, as well as complications such as preterm birth and miscarriage. Other complications include Guillain-Barré syndrome, neuropathies, and myelitis.

How to prevent infection and what treatments are available

There is no specific treatment for Zika virus infection or the diseases it causes. Rest, hydration, and the use of antipyretics and/or analgesics to manage symptoms are recommended. The use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs is discouraged until dengue virus infection is excluded due to the risk of bleeding. For prevention, the most effective strategy remains protection from mosquito bites through the use of repellents, nets, and protective clothing.

The impact of climate change and the risk of tropicalization in Italy

Climate change, with increasing temperatures and precipitation variability, is altering the habitat of vector mosquitoes, increasing the risk of Zika virus spread even in Europe. Italy, with its Mediterranean climate that tends to become increasingly tropical, is particularly exposed to this risk. The presence and activity of the Aedes vector, along with climate change, could facilitate the spread of the Zika virus on the continent, making constant monitoring and implementation of effective prevention and control strategies essential.


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