The tiger mosquito.
A strange epidemic hit the tiny village of Castiglione di Cervia in northern Italy last summer. Some 100 villagers (out of a population of 2,000) had fallen ill with malaria-like symptoms by the middle of August. The villagers were scared and hysterical. No one had any idea what was happening, until government scientists figured it out - the village was suffering from an outbreak of Chinkungunya, a relative of dengue fever normally found around the Indian Ocean.
Brought to the village by a visitor who had been traveling in India in July, the sickness was spread by the tiger mosquito. New to the region (tiger mosquitos only began to appear around this area of northern Italy three years ago), it seems this pest has begun to make itself at home in much of southern, and even central, Europe. Says Roberto Berollini, director of the World Health Organization's Program on Health and the Environment:
This is the first case of an epidemic of a tropical disease in a developed, European country. Climate change creates conditions that make it easier for this mosquito to survive and it opens the door to diseases that didn't exist here previously. This is a real issue. Now, today. It is not something a crazy environmentalist is warning about.
By September, the outbreak was under control in Castiglione di Cervia, as officials sprayed insecticides in the village and drained standing water in residents' yards in order to destroy the mosquito's breeding grounds. Smaller outbreaks, however, continued to plague nearby areas.
This winter, some of the village's resident still suffer from the aftereffects of the disease, which include arthritis. Although today there are no longer any cases of Chinkungunya in the village, global climate change is expected to cause renewed outbreaks of this and other tropical diseases in Europe in the future.