It promises to be another warm long weekend. However, the exceptionally warm weather that we have been able to notice in Belgium in recent years has its consequences. Climate change will have an important effect on our health. For example, the tiger mosquito is advancing, the pollen season is shifting, we will be confronted with short-lived heat waves and we can expect to be affected by diseases that until now were reserved for tropical areas. As part of the Copernicus Programme and in collaboration with the Zoersel software company Avia-GIS, VITO has developed an instrument that shows how future weather conditions in Europe, for example, will encourage the expansion of the tiger mosquito.

Mol, 20 May 2020 - A little sunshine is good. But a continuous shift in the weather, with Europe becoming warmer and drier, also poses a threat to our health. If Europe warms up and summer temperatures reach an average of 20 to 25 degrees Celsius and don't fall below 3 degrees in January, we can expect an invasion of tiger mosquitoes.

The tiger mosquito (Aedes Albopictus) originates from Southeast Asia, but we can already find it in Spain, Italy and France. It is an aggressive creature that also stings during the day. It not only leaves behind painful bites, but is also the spreader of West Nile fever, chikungunya, dengue and yellow fever. Every year we see more and more tiger mosquitoes in our regions. They enter our country via goods from the south. To survive they only need small puddles of stagnant water and a liveable temperature. Because of the rising temperature in our country, experts expect that this mosquito will soon be able to survive in our regions and infect people here. Citizens and health services should be aware that this type of VBD infections (vector borne diseases, transmitted by a vector like a mosquito) will pose a real risk. 

The Copernicus Climate Change Service collects climate data from various international institutes to determine how and at what rate the climate shift is taking place in Europe. Flemish VITO contributes to this wealth of climate data by providing climate data for 100 European cities. These data are available free of charge to whom they can be used. In recent months, a number of applications have also been launched to make all this data more accessible, in which VITO has also cooperated. VITO's climate adaptation team has developed a climate service with clear maps showing how changing temperatures will affect the timing and intensity of the pollen season in the very short term, as well as diseases transmitted by, for example, tiger mosquitoes.

"As far as the tiger mosquito is concerned, in collaboration with the VBD experts of the Flemish SME Avia-GIS, we have now developed two predictive applications", researcher Julie Berckmans of VITO explains. "The first one shows how climate conditions can be favourable for the survival of the tiger mosquito in 100 European cities between 2008 and 2017.  Another application shows how conditions in Europe as a whole are likely to become more suitable for the tiger mosquito to thrive in the future climate".

For example, you can see that the tiger mosquito already inhabits Portugal and Spain, some regions in Italy and southern France. What's more, even central and northern Europe are gradually moving towards an ideal living environment for tiger mosquitoes, so the tiger mosquito can have a permanent home in these regions later this century.

"This instrument will be of great importance to local authorities. After all, it will help them to understand the challenges they face and to prepare themselves for a number of health risks," concludes Julie Berckmans. "For the government, for institutions such as the Institute of Tropical Medicine or travel organisations, this is also an interesting tool for formulating travel advice or advising people on the prevention of mosquito bites and signalling symptoms of diseases transmitted by mosquitoes. In addition, pharmaceutical companies exploring new markets can use this tool to estimate how far mosquitoes spread and thus for which diseases they should develop vaccinations".

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