The knowns and unknowns of West Nile virus in Europe: what did we learn from the 2018 outbreak?
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Introduction: West Nile virus (WNV) is a mosquito-borne human and animal pathogen with nearly worldwide distribution. In Europe, the virus is endemic with seasonal regional outbreaks that have increased in frequency over the last 10 years. A massive outbreak occurred across southern and central Europe in 2018 with the number of confirmed human cases increasing up to 7.2-fold from the previous year, and expanding to include previously virus-free regions. Areas covered: This review focuses on potential causes that may explain the 2018 European WNV outbreak. We discuss the role genetic, ecological, and environmental aspects may have played in the increased activity during the 2018 transmission season, summarizing the latest epidemiological and virological publications. Expert opinion: Optimal environmental conditions, specifically increased temperature, were most likely responsible for the observed outbreak. Other factors cannot be ruled out due to limited available information, including factors that may influence host/vector abundance and contact. Europe will likely experience even larger-scale outbreaks in the coming years. Increased surveillance efforts should be implemented with a focus on early-warning detection methods, and large-scale host and vector surveys should continue to fill gaps in knowledge.