When you think of Italy, you think caprese salad, Prada, vespas and gelato (or is that just me?). Well, here’s a new association for you: Chikungunya.
Doesn’t sound familiar? That’s because this relative of Dengue fever is normally found only in the tropics. But it’s what some unlucky residents of Castiglione di Cervia got to experience firsthand last summer.
Panic spread in this northern Italian village after about 100 of its residents “fell ill with weeks of high fever, exhaustion and excruciating bone pain,” according to an article in the New York Times. While doctors were initially stumped by the symptoms, fearful residents blamed it on everything from pollution in the river to the government to immigrants.
As it transpires, they were partially right; it was the fault of immigrants — just not the human variety. Mosquitoes to be precise. Once the culprit was identified, doctors still couldn’t figure out how mosquitoes could have carried the disease all the way from Africa. They eventually narrowed it down to a feverish relative of one of the villagers who had contracted the disease in Kerala, India. “By the time we got back the name and surname of the virus, our outbreak was over,” said Dr Rafella Angelini, director of the regional public health department in Ravenna.
Summer has gone and mosquitoes have died. Luckily there were no reported deaths from chikungunya in Castiglione di Cervia; however, many residents are still suffering from arthritis, a known complication of the disease.
But the fact that a tropical disease traveled to the heart of Europe is certainly a worrying sign. Dr. Roberto Bertollini, director of the World Health Organization’s Health and Environment program concurs. “This is the first case of an epidemic of a tropical disease in a developed, European country. Climate change creates conditions that make it easier for this mosquito to survive and it opens the door to diseases that didn’t exist here previously. This is a real issue. Now, today. It is not something a crazy environmentalist is warning about.”
Makes you wonder what could possibly be next.