The mosquito species Anopheles daciae, commonly found in eastern Europe and the Balkan States and thought to be possible carriers of malaria, has been observed in several regions of Finland.
Researchers at the University of Helsinki discovered the new species Anopheles daciae as they were mapping mosquito populations across the country over the course of five years. The species is considered to be a malaria vector because it is closely related to other malaria-spreading mosquitoes.
Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease which causes symptoms such as fever, vomiting, headaches, seizures and even death. The disease died out in Finland around the middle of the 1900s but could theoretically return.
However Lorna Culverwell, a doctoral student at the university, said there is no need for immediate worry about the risk of malaria spreading in Finland.
Malaria in Finland faded in 1950s
"As malaria is not currently endemic in Finland, there is no reason to panic at this finding. However, the coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated that we have to be prepared for all public health eventualities," Culverwell said.
Anopheles daciae or Anopheles messeae, which are potential malaria vectors, were found in the regions of Uusimaa, Varsinais-Suomi, Kymenlaakso, Kanta-Häme, Pirkanmaa, Pohjois-Pohjanmaa, Päijät-Häme, Satakunta and Åland. The mosquito mapping research was carried out during 2013-2018.
Anopheles messeae - the most common malaria carrying mosquito in Europe - is thought to have been responsible for cases of malaria in Finland up until the 1950s when cases of malaria ended in the Nordic country.
Tracking helps fight possible outbreaks
Culverwell said it is important to survey and keep track of all mosquito species in Europe that are able to transmit pathogens, including malaria, particularly regarding the effects of climate change.
Global warming trends may have an impact on the increase in habitats and improvement in conditions for mosquito populations which can transmit tropical diseases, among other things, according to Culverwell.
"From the perspective of preventing and controlling mosquito-borne pathogens such as malaria, Sindbis or Usutu viruses, we need to have basic knowledge of the mosquito species occurring in Finland, their distribution and which disease-causing pathogens each species can potentially transmit. Such knowledge provides the framework for future disease control measures,” she said.
Corrected on 3 July 2020 for clarification regarding the Anopheles messeae species of mosquitos.