The rise of West Nile Virus in Southern and Southeastern Europe: A spatial–temporal analysis investigating the combined effects of climate, land use and economic changes

Matthew J. Watts*, Victor Sarto i Monteys, P. Graham Mortyn, Panagiota Kotsila

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

West Nile Virus (WNV) has recently emerged as a major public health concern in Europe; its recent expansion also coincided with some remarkable socio-economic and environmental changes, including an economic crisis and some of the warmest temperatures on record. Here we empirically investigate the drivers of this phenomenon at a European wide scale by constructing and analyzing a unique spatial–temporal data-set, that includes data on climate, land-use, the economy, and government spending on environmental related sectors. Drivers and risk factors of WNV were identified by building a conceptual framework, and relationships were tested using a Generalized Additive Model (GAM), which could capture complex non-linear relationships and also account for spatial and temporal auto-correlation. Some of the key risk factors identified in our conceptual framework, such as a higher percentage of wetlands and arable land, climate factors (higher summer rainfall and higher summer temperatures) were positive predictors of WNV infections. Interestingly, winter temperatures of between 2 °C and 6 °C were among some of the strongest predictors of annual WNV infections; one possible explanation for this result is that successful overwintering of infected adult mosquitoes (likely Culex pipiens) is key to the intensity of outbreaks for a given year. Furthermore, lower surface water extent over the summer is also associated with more intense outbreaks, suggesting that drought, which is known to induce positive changes in WNV prevalence in mosquitoes, is also contributing to the upward trend in WNV cases in affected regions. Our indicators representing the economic crisis were also strong predictors of WNV infections, suggesting there is an association between austerity and cuts to key sectors, which could have benefited vector species and the virus during this crucial period. These results, taken in the context of recent winter warming due to climate change, and more frequent droughts, may offer an explanation of why the virus has become so prevalent in Europe.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100315
JournalOne Health
Volume13
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

Keywords

  • Austerity
  • Climate-change
  • Drought
  • Economic-crisis
  • Mosquito
  • Vector-borne-disease
  • West-Nile-virus

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