A sharp spike in cases of the deadly West Nile virus has added to the problems facing Spanish healthcare workers already stretched to breaking point by the coronavirus pandemic.
In the past month, 52 new cases of the disease have been reported – mainly in the province of Andalusia. Prior to this latest outbreak there had been just seven cases reported over the past 10 years.
At least four people have died of the virus in the province of Sevilla.
The virus, like coronavirus, produces no symptoms in around 80% of the people it infects – enabling it to spread very easily.
A minority of victims, though, will suffer from flu-like symptoms including headaches and a fever. And a few of those, especially the elderly or those with underlying medical conditions, may go on to develop severe neurological problems including meningitis and encephalitis.
Even mild cases can take a while to recover from and about one in 10 of people who contract the severe form of the disease are likely to die.
The disease, which has no vaccine or known cure, is spread by mosquito bites – and the insects are breeding in record numbers across southern Spain.
Climate change has caused an unusually damp spring in Spain over recent years, creating the ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes.
There has been a reported 30% increase in mosquito numbers across the wetlands of the Doñana National Park and the Guadalquivir river.
Jesus Aguirre, the regional health minister for Andalucia, has said that a new invasive species of mosquito known as the Asian Bush mosquito (Aedes japonicus) may have contributed to the spread of the disease.
The regional government of Andalusia has pledged to spend nearly £100,000 on spraying insecticide over the mosquitoes’ breeding grounds using drones and tractors
Pablo Barreiro, an expert in infectious diseases, warned at the beginning of the outbreak that the virus could easily spread across the whole of Spain.
He said: “Only about two to five per cent of the cases present symptoms.
“It’s an illness that can go unnoticed very easily.”
Spain’s Health Ministry reported more new coronavirus infections on Friday than any other day since the pandemic began – 12,183 cases, bringing the total to above 566,300.
The country has been plagued by people ignoring lockdown rules. Last weekend 75 people were arrested when police raided unlicensed premises operating as a bar and brothel.
None of them were wearing face masks.