Concern in France over risk of chikungunya virus

French authorities have issued advice to counter the threat of the mosquito-born virus chikungunya, after dozens of cases were reported in the south. The risk of a chikungunya or dengue fever outbreak could be heightened by supporters returning from the World Cup in Brazil.

Concern in France over risk of chikungunya virus
French authorities fear the spread of the mosquito-born virus Chikungunya have issued advice to residents in the south of France as well as travellers and tourists to the Carribean. Photo: CDC/Flickr

Concern is growing in the south of France this summer over the heightened threat of a repeat of the 2010 outbreak of the chikungunya virus, which is spread by mosquitos.

Until recently the disease only affected France’s overseas territories in the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean, but health officials revealed earlier this month that there have been 47 newly diagnosed cases in mainland France, Sud-Ouest newspaper revealed.

(The threat of chikungunya in France this summer" reads the headline in Sud-Ouest)

All of the patients were infected with the illness on a trip abroad to the French islands of Martinique and Guadaloupe, where an epidemic since the beginning of the year has resulted in 13 deaths.

But with French tourists heading to and from the Caribbean this summer there are fears that it won't be long before France has its first “native” cases. Some reports claim the risk is also heightened by the fact many football supporters will soon return from the tropical parts of Brazil, where the World Cup is taking place.

What increases the risk of the virus being spread in France is that the disease-carrying tiger mosquito is now well and truly settled in the south of the country.

Tiger mosquitos, which also carry dengue fever, have now made home in at least 17 departments in the south of France, according to French daily Le Parisien. That number went up from just nine in 2012 and it will continue to colonise new ground. 

In May concerned French health authorities activated their plan of action against the spread of the tiger mosquito.

The action involves keeping a close watch on mosquito populations, as well as those infected by diseases and a major effort to wipe out the tiger mosquitos from certain areas.

Health authorities have also issued advice to those who are travelling to the French territories hit by the epidemic of chikungunya.

That guidance basically goes along the lines of cover up either with clothes or mosquito repellent.

Symptoms of chikungunya include a high fever, intense muscle aches and joint pains and a severe headache. Other symptoms mentioned online by French health authorities include nausea and skin rashes. Only in extreme cases will the disease result in death.

The incubation period can be between two and ten days.

The disease is spread when a mosquito bites a patient infected with the virus and then goes on to bite others.

This is what happened in 2010 when authorities were forced to deal with an outbreak of chikungunya in the Provence – Côte d'Azur region.

Residents in the south of the country are asked to be vigilant and take simple steps to avoid infestation by a creature that lays 250 eggs every two days.

“It’s important to get rid of stagnant water around the house,” the Direction générale de la santé (Directorate General for Health) said in a statement.

“Replace saucers from under flowerpots, change the water in vases several times each week, check that gutters are clear, and get rid of used tires,” the directorate added.

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MAP: ‘Deadly’ tiger mosquitoes have colonised almost all of Paris region

The Asian tiger mosquito, which carries a range of potentially fatal diseases, has colonised all but one of the départements of the greater Paris region, experts have revealed.

MAP: ‘Deadly' tiger mosquitoes have colonised almost all of Paris region

This tiny black and white striped mosquito, which can deliver potentially deadly tropical diseases such as dengue fever, zika and chikungunya, was first spotted in France in 2004 and has been spreading since.

It has now colonised more than half of the départements of France, and 58 of them are on red alert (meaning that the tiger mosquito is “located there and active”), according to the mosquito vigilance website Vigilance-moustiques’s latest map.

For the moment the insects are concentrated in southern France and in almost all of the départements of the greater Paris region, except for Val d’Oise, according to the Agence régionale de santé (ARS) d'Ile-de-France.

These include Paris, and 6 other départements – Seine-et-Marne, Yvelines, Essonne, Hauts-de-Seine, Seine-Saint-Denis and Val-de-Marne.

According to Le Parisien, the ARS observed an expansion of the tiger mosquito's territory with a colonisation of several towns last year in the greater Paris Île-de-France region. The départements of Val-de-Marne and Hauts-de-Seine were the worst affected.

Map of the French départements where the tiger mosquito was spotted as of January 1st 2020. Crédit: French Ministry of Health

What about this year? 

“For the moment, it is too early to establish a potential increase by département. It is difficult to foresee the dynamics of the expansion because it is influenced by the weather forecast. Warm and sunny weather alternating with showers is particularly favorable to the growth of the mosquito”, the ARS told Le Parisien.

As of now, the Île-de-France region hasn’t been hit by an increase of cases of tropical diseases, according to what the ARS told Le Parisien.

Nonetheless, actions are being taken to control the situation and wipe the insect out of the Greater Paris region.

“470 traps have been set up in the region in the general environment and around particularly sensitive sites such as hospitals, airports, and other highly frequented places by tourists,” the ARS told Le Parisien. These include Disneyland in Seine-et-Marne and the château de Vincennes in Val-de-Marne.

How can you protect yourself from the tiger mosquito?

The tiger mosquito is 5mm long, half the size of a regular mosquito, so spotting it isn't that easy. 

If you are in a region on red alert, the best way to avoid bites is to wear clothes that cover your body, to turn on the AC if possible (mosquitoes hate cold air) and use repellent, according to the ARS’ recommendations.

You should also make sure there is no standing water near your home or where you are staying, as this is where mosquitoes breed. Plant containers, blocked gutters and paddling pools all make good breeding grounds for these insects.

While it is important to remain vigilant, there are reportedly no cases of transmission of a virus such as dengue, zika or chikungunya by the tiger mosquito in Ile de France to this date, according to the ARS