(Related story: Climate Change Spurring Dengue Rise, Experts Say [September 21, 2007])
"Dengue would certainly be more worrying than chikungunya," said Denis Coulombier, the ECDC's head of preparedness and response. "It is something we need to keep an eye on, because the possibility is there."
Most scientists think Europe's advanced health systems and high living standards will help avert widespread disease. Malaria was once endemic in much of Europe but disappeared once the swamps that bred mosquitoes were replaced by buildings, and medicines to treat malaria became widely available.
But development doesn't deter all mosquitoes. Certain species prefer artificial breeding sites like rain-filled gutters and plastic containers. "If the climate gets suitable enough, then even very high living standards won't necessarily protect you," said WHO's Campbell-Lendrum.
Although Italy's chikungunya outbreak has been contained, "the big question is what is going to happen in the spring next year," said Coulombier.
Other European countries should pay attention: France also saw a few dozen cases of chikungunya last year.
"Italy is not the only country that needs to prepare for another outbreak," said Evelyn Depoortere, a chikungunya expert at the European Centre. "Southern European countries around the Adriatic coast like Greece, France, and Spain are also at risk."
As long as temperatures keep rising, health officials say, disease detection and response systems need to be reinforced.
"Climate change is one more factor pushing us in the direction of more disease," said Campbell-Lendrum. "With warmer weather, it is very likely we will have diseases popping up in Europe that no one had ever expected to see."
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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