Switzerland threatened by the return of tropical diseases, experts say
The Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH) has warned that previously unheard of diseases like malaria, zika virus and dengue fever could spread to the alpine nation. It follows similar warnings from Germany, with experts predicting that changes to the weather, caused by climate change, will allow more disease-carrying insects to flourish in Central and Northern Europe.
Climate change to bring diseases back to Europe
In an interview with German news site Spiegel, the president of the Robert Koch Institute, Lothar Wieler, warned that "a return of malaria to Germany is possible." Soon after, Swiss TPH director Jürg Utzinger told 20 minuten that the same assessment can be applied to Swiss cantons and cities.
"Because of the warmer summers and milder winters, mosquito species that can transmit tropical diseases are also spreading in this country," Utzinger noted. Despite being practically unheard of in Switzerland today, malaria was only eradicated in the country at the end of 19th century, after many large swamps and flood plains were drained.
Utzinger said that today, “There are major renaturation projects on rivers - flora and fauna are being given more space again.” While good for biodiversity, urban gardens and regeneration projects can promote the spread of various mosquito species, he explained.
Malaria and Zika-carrying mosquitos already present in Switzerland
The director noted that the Anopheles mosquito - the one which most commonly carries malaria - is already present in Switzerland. However, for there to be an outbreak, “The pathogen would have to get to Europe, for example via infected people." “Since we can treat sick people easily, a widespread outbreak of malaria is very unlikely today," he assured.
In contrast to malaria, Utzinger admitted that the Tiger mosquito - carrier of dengue and zika virus - poses a far different and in some ways greater challenge for hospitals and healthcare in Switzerland. Alongside using pesticides, Utzinger confirmed that they were analysing and applying the results of a study from Ticino, which released 10.000 sterile mosquitoes into the countryside to try and limit their population.