Background: Extreme precipitation events are increasing as a result of ongoing global warming, but controversy surrounds the relationship between flooding and mosquito-borne diseases. A common view among the scientific community and public health officers is that heavy rainfalls have a flushing effect on breeding sites, which negatively affects vector populations, thereby diminishing disease transmission. During 2014 in Montpellier, France, there were at least 11 autochthonous cases of chikungunya caused by the invasive tiger mosquito Aedes albopictus in the vicinity of an imported case. We show that an extreme rainfall event increased and extended the abundance of the disease vector Ae. albopictus, hence the period of autochthonous transmission of chikungunya.
Methodology/principal findings: We report results from close monitoring of the adult and egg population of the chikungunya vector Ae. albopictus through weekly sampling over the entire mosquito breeding season, which revealed an unexpected pattern. Statistical analysis of the seasonal dynamics of female abundance in relation to climatic factors showed that these relationships changed after the heavy rainfall event. Before the inundations, accumulated temperatures are the most important variable predicting Ae. albopictus seasonal dynamics. However, after the inundations, accumulated rainfall over the 4 weeks prior to capture predicts the seasonal dynamics of this species and extension of the transmission period.
Conclusions/significance: Our empirical data suggests that heavy rainfall events did increase the risk of arbovirus transmission in Southern France in 2014 by favouring a rapid rise in abundance of vector mosquitoes. Further studies should now confirm these results in different ecological contexts, so that the impact of global change and extreme climatic events on mosquito population dynamics and the risk of disease transmission can be adequately understood.