Originally an oriental species, over the last three decades Aedes albopictus has invaded and established itself in the United States, Central and South America and West Africa. Through the effects of globalisation and the increased movement of people and resources it has now penetrated Europe. The species continues to spread at a rapid pace due to its pernicious ability to breed in a large range of larval habitats. The manner of its distribution has been primarily via eggs laid in used tyres shipped from infested countries. It has also spread in shipments of certain plants such as the ‘Lucky bamboo’ plants from China. Regulation and inspection procedures have now been established to monitor the use and movement of used vehicle tyres in order to arrest the further spread of this potentially dangerous vector of diseases.
However, the Aedes albopictus infestation in Europe is rapidly growing worse and increasingly threatens the European community. The species was first found in Albania (1979); it was then recorded in Italy (1990), in France (1999), Belgium (2000) and Yugoslavia (2001). It has rapidly spread throughout whichever country or area it has invaded – it now covers much of Albania and Italy, and appears to be quickly spreading through France.
Aedes albopictus is an efficient vector of many arboviruses – and tourists and migrants coming from disease-endemic countries serve as a source of infection to mosquitoes already established in Europe, further risking the establishment or reintroduction of these infections in countries from which the infections have not previously been known. The recent large epidemics of West Nile virus in Romania and other countries in Europe, as well as the appearance and spread of this virus in the USA since 1999 demonstrate the ease with which this can occur.
In view of the known role of this species as an efficient vector of dengue and some 20 other arboviruses in countries throughout the world where it is indigenous or has invaded, this rapid spread throughout Europe must be viewed as a matter of great public health concern. No country is safe from invasion of this species due to its ability to colonise in a wide range of climatic conditions. Unfortunately, the delay in recognition of the presence of the species prevents early control of new infestations when their range is limited. The Europe-wide network of specialists, research and information provided by EMCA is thus invaluable in the on-going fight against Aedes albopictus.
Contact: Dr Francis Schaffner (Francis.Schaffner@access.uzh.ch)