Experts review status of vector-borne diseases in Slovenia

An expert meeting on vector-borne diseases organized on 7 April 2014 in Ljubljana drew national attention to the theme of this year’s World Health Day. The meeting was attended by over 100 professionals, mostly from the health sector, who listened to lectures by national experts on topics such as the global and national burden of these diseases, blood safety and the protection of travellers. The event was organized by the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Slovenia, the National Institute for Public Health and the WHO Country Office in Slovenia.

Vector-borne diseases are less prevalent in Europe than in other WHO regions; however, Maja Sočan from the National Institute of Public Health explained that climate change can alter the patterns of some diseases that are now considered exotic.

Incidence and response in Slovenia

The most common vector -borne diseases in Slovenia are encephalitis and Lyme disease, both transmitted by ticks.  According to the National Institute of Public Health, 310 persons were diagnosed with tick-borne meningoencephalitis and 6938 persons with Lyme disease in 2013 in Slovenia. While the incidence of meningoencephalitis is higher in some areas, Lyme disease is evenly spread throughout the country, explained Dr Sočan. There is a vaccine available for meningoencephalitis, but it is relatively expensive and only a small part of the population has opted to receive it.

Emerging threats

According to Tatjana Avšič Županc from the Institute of Microbiology and Immunology at the Ljubljana Medical Faculty , the emergence and spread of invasive species of tropical mosquitoes increases the risk that the diseases they transmit will also be introduced. Other vectors that transmit diseases elsewhere, such as Asian tiger mosquitoes, are already present in Slovenia.

Continuous monitoring and control is therefore essential, as is intersectoral cooperation at national, regional and global levels. An epidemiological study in domestic animals  conducted in 2013 has already confirmed one case of a horse infected with the West Nile virus, explained Hrovatin Breda, from the Administration of the Republic of Slovenia for Food Safety, Veterinary Sector and Plant Protection.