Haifa U links West Nile Virus to global warming

The Israeli research team was chosen by the European Center, which belongs to the European Union, to lead the research.

May 12, 2013 23:14
1 minute read.
Global warming

global warming ice caps melting 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Global warming causes the spread of West Nile Virus in Europe, Israel and other regions, according to a new study conducted at the University of Haifa for the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control in Stockholm, which was released on Sunday.

The Israeli research team was chosen by the European Center, which belongs to the European Union, to lead the research.

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West Nile Virus, spread by mosquitoes that bite infected birds and can affect man, killed 10 Israelis and infected over 120 others several years ago, but has not caused fatalities here since. It is now considered to be endemic in Africa, Asia, Australia, parts of the Middle East, Europe and in the US, which in 2012 went though one of its worst outbreaks.

Higher temperatures around the world have a major influence on the spread of the disease in Europe and other neighboring areas, according to University of Haifa researcher Dr. Shulamit Paz, who headed the team that just published its study in PLoS One. She said the evidence on how warmer weather influences the spread of West Nile virus is becoming more clear all the time.

The infection can cause irreversible brain damage through encephalitis or meningitis in humans, and the elderly and people with weak immune systems are most susceptible.

The Haifa team said that humidity, in addition to warm weather, was involved in increasing mosquito populations in Europe, neighboring countries and Israel, along with the rest of the Middle East. “We used statistical tools and found that as a result of heat waves, a dramatic increase in the number of cases resulted from increased activity of the virus and a growth of the mosquito population,” Paz wrote.

The researcher is now conducting a continuing study on the subject for the European Center for Disease Prevention ad Control and the French research center, CIRAD, with the aim of looking for additional influences on the spread of the disease. Paz hopes their findings will make it possible to develop a model for better predicting the effects of the virus in Europe. If this occurs, the European Center will be better able to advise countries on preparing for the disease and even to moderate outbreaks, she said.

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