Background: Chikungunya was, from the European perspective, considered to be a travel-related tropical mosquito-borne disease prior to the first European outbreak in Northern Italy in 2007. This was followed by cases of autochthonous transmission reported in South-eastern France in 2010. Both events occurred after the introduction, establishment and expansion of the Chikungunya-competent and highly invasive disease vector Aedes albopictus (Asian tiger mosquito) in Europe. In order to assess whether these outbreaks are indicative of the beginning of a trend or one-off events, there is a need to further examine the factors driving the potential transmission of Chikungunya in Europe. The climatic suitability, both now and in the future, is an essential starting point for such an analysis.
Methods: The climatic suitability for Chikungunya outbreaks was determined by using bioclimatic factors that influence, both vector and, pathogen. Climatic suitability for the European distribution of the vector Aedes albopictus was based upon previous correlative environmental niche models. Climatic risk classes were derived by combining climatic suitability for the vector with known temperature requirements for pathogen transmission, obtained from outbreak regions. In addition, the longest potential intra-annual season for Chikungunya transmission was estimated for regions with expected vector occurrences.In order to analyse spatio-temporal trends for risk exposure and season of transmission in Europe, climate change impacts are projected for three time-frames (2011-2040, 2041-2070 and 2071-2100) and two climate scenarios (A1B and B1) from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). These climatic projections are based on regional climate model COSMO-CLM, which builds on the global model ECHAM5.
Results: European areas with current and future climatic suitability of Chikungunya transmission are identified. An increase in risk is projected for Western Europe (e.g. France and Benelux-States) in the first half of the 21st century and from mid-century onwards for central parts of Europe (e.g. Germany). Interestingly, the southernmost parts of Europe do not generally provide suitable conditions in these projections. Nevertheless, many Mediterranean regions will persist to be climatically suitable for transmission. Overall, the highest risk of transmission by the end of the 21st century was projected for France, Northern Italy and the Pannonian Basin (East-Central Europe). This general tendency is depicted in both, the A1B and B1 climate change scenarios.
Conclusion: In order to guide preparedness for further outbreaks, it is crucial to anticipate risk as to identify areas where specific public health measures, such as surveillance and vector control, can be implemented. However, public health practitioners need to be aware that climate is only one factor driving the transmission of vector-borne disease.