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Climate and Tickborne Encephalitis

Elisabet Lindgren, Stockholm University

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Abstract

Climatic changes are projected to alter the abundance, dynamics, and geographical distribution of many vector-borne diseases in human populations. Tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) are a growing concern in northern Europe and the United States. The impact of a future climate change on the transmission of tick-borne diseases is not known. To make such assumptions, more empirical data are needed on the relations between short-term fluctuations in contemporary weather and disease incidence. This paper analyzes relations between daily minimum and maximum temperatures, monthly precipitation, and TBE incidence during a 36-yr period in Stockholm County, a high-endemic region for TBE in Sweden. Multiple regression analyses were performed, with temperature variables expressed as number of days per winter or spring - summer - fall season with temperatures above, below, or in the interval between different temperature limits. The limits used for daily minimum temperatures represent bioclimatic thresholds of importance for pathogen transmission. To adjust for the length of the tick's life cycle, each TBE incidence rate was related to meteorological data over two consecutive years. Results reveal that increased incidence of tick-borne encephalitis is related to a combination of two successive years of more days with temperatures permitting prolonged seasonal tick activity and, hence, pathogen transmission (i.e., daily minimum temperatures above 5ºC-10ºC), and a mild winter preceding the year before the incidence year (i.e., fewer winter days with minimum temperatures below -7ºC). Alternative explanations of the results are discussed. Findings of this study suggest that a climate change may extend the seasonal range and intensify the endemicity of tick-borne diseases, in particular, at northern latitudes.

Key words

Encephalitis; tickborne; Tickborne diseases; Temperature; Climate; Ticks.
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087