More than 100 people have been affected, and least 14 have died, this summer in Serbia from complications caused by the West Nile virus.
By Igor Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 02/09/13
West Nile virus is spread by the Asian tiger mosquito, although most people do not exhibit symptoms [AFP]
Medical authorities throughout southeast Europe are monitoring the spread of the West Nile virus, which has been spotted in several countries and caused more than dozen deaths in Serbia alone.
According to data from the Public Health Institute of Serbia, 14 citizens have died since the beginning of the summer having been infected with the West Nile virus, which is carried by the Asian tiger mosquito.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control reports 104 cases this year in Serbia, 49 cases in Greece, five in Romania, and one case in Macedonia, Croatia and Montenegro.
The majority of Serbian cases are in Belgrade, where 75 people contracted the disease and 14 of them died. According to Public Health Institute data, of the 105 diseased, 88 are older than 50, and 67 of them suffer from a chronic illness.
Dragan Delic, head of the Belgrade Clinic for Infectious and Tropical Diseases, said that the illness is passed on without symptoms in 80 percent of the infected. However, in more severe cases the central nervous system is infected, which makes the course of the disease difficult to predict.
"About 80 percent of the infected are symptom-free, while around 20 percent experience fever, vomiting and a rash," Delic told SETimes.
According to Delic, this year all conditions have been created for this type of infection in Serbia. "Serbian citizens are not immune to this type of infection, and we have migratory birds which are the primary 'reservoir' for this virus, as well as bodies of water and mosquitos which spread the infection," he said.
According to World Health Organisation data, there is still no human vaccine against the virus, which was first isolated in the West Nile region of Uganda in 1937, even though there is an efficient vaccine for horses. The virus lives in birds, is transmitted mostly by mosquito bite.
The Public Health Institute has recommended that citizens avoid areas of high mosquito infestation (forests and bodies of water), wear clothing with long sleeves and legs, use mosquito repellents, place mosquito window and door nets, and immediately see a doctor if they notice any of the symptoms.
Petar Vuksa, a professor at the Belgrade Faculty of Agriculture, called for a spraying programme in Belgrade. "Aerial intervention is the only solution for Belgrade. Mosquitos spread diseases and their suppression must be approached systematically and in large areas," Vuksa told SETimes.
He added that the number and type of mosquitos present in the country must be monitored, but that the current level of training of the teams working on it and the choice of pesticides give "cause for concern."
In Macedonia, officials in August sprayed areas at Ohrid, Dojran, Resen, Kru, Berovo and Cesinovo-Oblesevo for mosquitos. "The best prevention is self-protection through the use of mosquito repellents and fumigation of public spaces," Dr. Liljana Nestorova of the Macedonian health ministry told SETimes.
Correspondent Klaudija Lutovska in Skopje contributed to this report.
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