A MENINGITIS ‘outbreak’ which has left 16 people hospitalised in Sevilla may have been caused by mosquitos.
Health experts believe the blood-sucking pests could be behind the string of new cases, which has left five people in intensive care and a total of 18 people infected.
The virus, known scientifically as meningoencephalitis, causes an inflammation of the brain and its surrounding protective membranes.
The Andalucian Health Service, which has launched an investigation, first thought it may have been West Nile fever, but initial tests seem to have ruled that theory out.
According to El Mundo, the affected patients are from the towns of Coria del Rio and La Puebla, both located near marshland along the Guadalquivir river.
The area is a hotbed for mosquitos and has recently seen a spike in tiger mosquitos, known to carry diseases such as dengue and West Nile fever.
However tests taken from the patients so far have tested negative for both, as well as for the Tuscany and lymphocytic choriomeningitis viruses.
“We are waiting to know the rest of the results,” the Junta said.
It comes after the National Association of Environmental Health Companies (ANECPLA), warned in July that the Aedes japonicus mosquito had also successfully planted itself in several regions, including Asturias, Cantabria and Andalucia.
The scientists said in a report that much like the tiger mosquito, the Aedes japonicus had reached a ‘point of no return’ in terms of population numbers and is now ‘practically impossible’ to get rid of.
The species is usually found in natural areas where there is a large amount of vegetation.
While it means it is less likely to be found in urban areas, it is capable of carrying the dengue, chikungunya and West Nile virus (however such diseases have to already be present among the population for there to be a health risk to the public).
The regional government has now activated its disease prevention protocol in response to the new meningitis cases in a bid to stop further people becoming infected.
The viral infection cannot be transmitted between people.
“Given the doubts that exist about its origin and its mode of transmission, we recommend the use of insect repellent and that people avoid walking through humid areas, as a preventive measure, if its origin is finally confirmed in a species of mosquito,” said Coria del Rio town hall in a statement.
Speaking to El Mundo, Amaya Jimeno, a specialist in Infectious Diseases at the Murcia Health Service, said the most frequent symptoms of meningoencephalitis are a headache, fever, nausea or vomiting. Other symptoms include neck stiffness and disorientation.