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International Experts Launch A Pan-European System To Monitor The Spread Of Disease-Carrying Mosquitoes

International Experts Launch A Pan-European System To Monitor The Spread Of Disease-Carrying Mosquitoes

The European AIM-COST Action and the Versatile Emerging infectious disease Observatory (VEO) project are launching today an application for mobile phones that allows anyone to report a mosquito observation by sending a photo and report a mosquito bite. Mosquito Alert, an app to track disease-spreading mosquitoes, is now available in 18 languages. It will allow scientists to monitor the spread of these insects, which can transmit viral diseases such as dengue, chikungunya, West Nile fever and Japanese encephalitis. The aim is to create an affordable and powerful pan-European system for a systematic and continuous surveillance of disease-carrying mosquitoes in order to predict, manage the spread and establishment of these vectors, as well as the risk of virus transmission.

 

Recent outbreaks of dengue, chikungunya, and West Nile virus across Europe are a stark reminder of the risk of rapidly expanding native and invasive mosquito populations and viral diseases linked with globalization, urbanization and climate change. According to data from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), as of September 2020, Europe has registered 9 local cases of dengue (5 in Italy and 8 in France) and 168 cases of West Nile fever, of which 77 have been in Greece (with 9 deaths), 49 in Spain (with 4 deaths), 29 in Italy, 9 in Germany and 4 in Romania.

 

"Cypriots have fought courageously against malaria for centuries, and learned the hard way that the fight against disease-carrying mosquitoes should involve the coordinated action of experts and citizens. Last year, Cyprus had 16 cases of West Nile fever (ECDC) and the Environmental Predictions department of The Cyprus Institute predicts a suitable climate for the establishment of the tiger mosquito, which might bring about a number of dreadful diseases upon the island. Together with the JSHU, we have established an island wide surveillance network of dedicated citizen scientists. With the involvement of many more of volunteers through Mosquito Alert, we are dedicated to stop any potential threats in track." says Dr Kamil Erguler of the Climate and Atmosphere Research Center (CARE-C) of The Cyprus Institute.

 

Through the app, citizens can take pictures of mosquitoes and submit them to be identified, and inform about potential breeding sites and mosquito borne diseases. The information is passed along to a team of more than 50 international expert entomologists, including Dr Angeliki F Martinou Head Entomologist, JSHU, who validate the observations.

 

Mosquito Alert has been used in Spain for five years, where volunteers have reported more than 18,300 mosquito sightings. These observations have been used to monitor the expansion of the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus), a species originally from South Eastern Asia that can transmit dengue, chikungunya and Zika.

 

The new version of the app allows users to report mosquitoes of four invasive species of concern in Europe: the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus), the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti), the Asian bush mosquito (Aedes japonicus), Aedes koreicus and a native one, the common house mosquito (Culex pipiens).

 

“In recent years we are observing how new invasive mosquitoes, and the establishment of efficient mosquito vector species, like the Asian tiger mosquito, have been responsible for the epidemic transmission of chikungunya in Italy in 2007 and 2017, both with hundreds of cases, and autochthonous dengue and Zika cases in southern Europe,”  says Alessandra della Torre coordinator of the AIM Cost EU project that this summer launched the first transboundary survey of Aedes invasive species in Europe named AIMSurv. The Joint Services Health Unit leads this pilot in Cyprus, in combination with traditional mosquito control actions taken on island.

 

Despite the mosquito season is now almost over in Cyprus, scientists from the Cypriot task force are going to test the Mosquito Alert in the field in order to optimize the system for large scale use in 2021. “We had the pleasure to organize the first AIM COST training school on mosquito surveillance in Akrotiri just before COVID-19 in January 2020 and test the app together with Dr Frederic Bartumeus and teenagers from Cypriot high schools. We are really looking forward to receiving more records from Cypriot citizens using the translated versions of the app this time” says Dr Angeliki F Martinou, Head Entomologist at JSHU.

 

The contribution of citizens would be valuable. Anybody can freely download the app in their own cell phones and send photos of mosquitoes found inside and outside their homes or send a report of mosquito bite and give their contribution to prevent novel public health threats.

 

“In Cyprus we haven’t yet recorded the tiger mosquito, having citizens on our side, looking out for it will enable us to detect it at an early stage” says Dr Martinou.

 

"We will never be able to achieve real-time global surveillance without new ways to control mosquito distribution and activity patterns. Traditional entomological approaches for data collection are too expensive to cover a national scale for long," explains Frederic Bartumeus, co-director of Mosquito Alert and ICREA researcher at CREAF and CEAB-CSIC "Citizen science based on smartphones is a way forward, which we want to promote in Cyprus"

 

Scientists stress that Mosquito Alert does not aim to replace traditional surveillance methods, but rather to complement them. Its main assets are its flexibility and the ability to assess all the data scientifically. It also creates an efficient communication channel between citizens, scientists, and public health managers, acting as an early warning system and raising awareness among the public of the potential risk of these vectors of human diseases.

 

The app allows participants to provide records on mosquito biting activity, as well as sightings, a feature that was not present in previous versions. "The information about bites is valuable because it allows us to better understand the networks between mosquitoes and humans through which diseases circulate", explains John Palmer, co-director of Mosquito Alert and professor at Pompeu Fabra University.

 

Another additional feature is the app will now allow to monitor the common mosquito (Culex pipiens complex), which is increasingly of concern in Europe due to its role in the transmission of West Nile virus. A disease of which 2,083 human cases and 180 deaths in Europe were recorded in 2018.

 

“The common house mosquito is a native species, but one that has an increasing epidemiological impact in Europe, which makes it necessary to monitor their populations, as is done with the invasive mosquitoes. In recent years, hundreds of local cases of West Nile fever have been counted in Europe and neighboring countries, with a peak in 2018”, says professor Marion Koopmans coordinator of the VEO EU project, and Head of the Department of Viroscience, Erasmus MC, The Netherlands.

 

Mosquito Alert will be launched in 18 additional European countries on October 2. The full list of countries is: Germany, Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Netherlands, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxemburg, Macedonia, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and Turkey.

 

Mosquito Alert has joined two major European projects in the fight against mosquito vectors of diseases. AIM COST is a European-funded working group that strengthens collaboration between academics, public health professionals and citizen scientists in Europe and neighboring countries to monitor and control invasive Aedes mosquitoes. It was created in 2018 and includes scientists and professionals from 33 European countries and 9 international partners working for a European surveillance program that combines traditional scientific methodologies with citizen science. Versatile Emerging infectious disease Observatory (VEO) is an EU-funded project aimed at generating and distributing high-quality information on evidence-based early warning, risk assessment and monitoring of emerging infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance.

 

The European network AIM-COST and the Versatile Emerging infectious disease Observatory (VEO) project have led this milestone by mobilizing 46 institutions from 27 countries throughout Europe that have collaborated in the translation and expansion of this app that has already demonstrated its success in Spain.

 

 

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