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1.  West Nile Virus Surveillance in 2013 via Mosquito Screening in Northern Italy and the Influence of Weather on Virus Circulation 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(10):e0140915.
West Nile virus (WNV) is a recently re-emerged health problem in Europe. In Italy, an increasing number of outbreaks of West Nile disease, with occurrences of human cases, have been reported since 2008. This is particularly true in northern Italy, where entomological surveillance systems have been implemented at a regional level. The aim of this study was to use, for the first time, all the entomological data collected in the five regions undergoing surveillance for WNV in northern Italy to characterize the viral circulation (at a spatial and temporal scale), identify potential mosquito vectors, and specify relationships between virus circulation and meteorological conditions. In 2013, 286 sites covering the entire Pianura Padana area were monitored. A total of 757,461 mosquitoes were sampled. Of these, 562,079 were tested by real-time PCR in 9,268 pools, of which 180 (1.9%) were positive for WNV. The largest part of the detected WNV sequences belonged to lineage II, demonstrating that, unlike those in the past, the 2013 outbreak was mainly sustained by this WNV lineage. This surveillance also detected the Usutu virus, a WNV-related flavivirus, in 241 (2.6%) pools. The WNV surveillance systems precisely identified the area affected by the virus and detected the viral circulation approximately two weeks before the occurrence of onset of human cases. Ninety percent of the sampled mosquitoes were Culex pipiens, and 178/180 WNV-positive pools were composed of only this species, suggesting this mosquito is the main WNV vector in northern Italy. A significantly higher abundance of the vector was recorded in the WNV circulation area, which was characterized by warmer and less rainy conditions and greater evapotranspiration compared to the rest of the Pianura Padana, suggesting that areas exposed to these conditions are more suitable for WNV circulation. This observation highlights warmer and less rainy conditions as factors able to enhance WNV circulation and cause virus spillover outside the sylvatic cycle.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0140915
PMCID: PMC4619062  PMID: 26488475
2.  First report outside Eastern Europe of West Nile virus lineage 2 related to the Volgograd 2007 strain, northeastern Italy, 2014 
Parasites & Vectors  2015;8:418.
Background
West Nile virus (WNV) is a Flavivirus transmitted to vertebrate hosts by mosquitoes, maintained in nature through an enzootic bird-mosquito cycle. In Europe the virus became of major public health and veterinary concern in the 1990s. In Italy, WNV re-emerged in 2008, ten years after the previous outbreak and is currently endemic in many areas of the country. In particular, the northeastern part of Italy experience continuous viral circulation, with human outbreaks caused by different genovariants of WNV lineage 1, Western-European and Mediterranean subcluster, and WNV lineage 2, Hungarian clade. Alongside the WNV National Surveillance Program that has been in place since 2002, regional surveillance plans were implemented after 2008 targeting mosquitoes, animals and humans.
Findings
In July and September 2014, West Nile virus lineage 2 was detected in pools of Culex pipiens s.l. mosquitoes from northeastern Italy. Whole genome sequencing and phylogenetic analysis of two representative samples identified the presence of WNV lineage 2 related to the Volgograd 2007 strain (99.3 % nucleotide sequence identity), in addition to WNV lineage 2 Hungarian clade.
Conclusions
This is the first evidence of the circulation of a WNV lineage 2 strain closely related to the Volgograd 2007 outside Eastern Europe, where it has caused large human outbreaks. This strain may pose a new threat to animal and human health in Italy.
doi:10.1186/s13071-015-1031-y
PMCID: PMC4534017  PMID: 26265490
West Nile virus lineage 2; Volgograd strain; Culex pipiens s.l; Northeastern Italy
3.  Ticks infesting humans in Italy and associated pathogens 
Parasites & Vectors  2014;7:328.
Background
Ticks may transmit a large variety of pathogens, which cause illnesses in animals and humans, commonly referred to as to tick-borne diseases (TBDs). The incidence of human TBDs in Italy is underestimated because of poor surveillance and the scant amount of studies available.
Methods
Samples (n = 561) were collected from humans in four main geographical areas of Italy (i.e., northwestern, northeastern, southern Italy, and Sicily), which represent a variety of environments. After being morphologically identified, ticks were molecularly tested with selected protocols for the presence of pathogens of the genera Rickettsia, Babesia, Theileria, Candidatus Neoehrlichia mikurensis, Borrelia and Anaplasma.
Results
Ticks belonged to 16 species of the genera Argas, Dermacentor, Haemaphysalis, Hyalomma, Ixodes and Rhipicephalus, with Ixodes ricinus (59.5%) being the species most frequently retrieved, followed by Rhipicephalus sanguineus sensu lato (21.4%). Nymphs were the life stage most frequently retrieved (41%), followed by adult females (34.6%). The overall positivity to any pathogen detected was 18%. Detected microorganisms were Rickettsia spp. (17.0%), Anaplasma phagocytophilum (0.8%), Borrelia afzelii (0.5%), Borrelia valaisiana (0.3%), C. N. mikurensis (0.5%) and Babesia venatorum (0.6%).
Conclusions
Results indicate that people living in the Italian peninsula are at risk of being bitten by different tick species, which may transmit a plethora of TBD causing pathogens and that co-infections may also occur.
doi:10.1186/1756-3305-7-328
PMCID: PMC4223688  PMID: 25023709
Ticks; Pathogens; Humans; Tick-borne diseases; Italy; Distribution
4.  Distribution and habitat characterization of the recently introduced invasive mosquito Aedes koreicus [Hulecoeteomyia koreica], a new potential vector and pest in north-eastern Italy 
Parasites & Vectors  2013;6:292.
Background
The container breeding species belonging to the genus Aedes (Meigen) are frequently recorded out of their place of origin. Invasive Aedes species are proven or potential vectors of important Arboviruses and their establishment in new areas pose a threat for human and animal health. A new species of exotic mosquito was recorded in 2011 in north-eastern Italy: Aedes (Finlaya) koreicus [Hulecoeteomyia koreica]. The aim of this study was to characterize the biology, the environment and the current distribution of this mosquito in north-eastern Italy. Morphological details useful to discriminate this species from other invasive Aedes mosquitoes are also given (see Additional files).
Methods
All possible breeding sites for larval development were monitored. In addition, ovitraps and traps for adults were used to collect eggs and adults. The mosquitoes (larvae and adults) were identified morphologically and molecularly. Environmental data and climatic variables during the period of mosquito activity (from April to October) were considered.
Results
Aedes koreicus was found in 37 municipalities (39.4%) and was detected in 40.2% of places and in 37.3% of larval habitats monitored, in a range of altitude from 173 to 1250 m.a.s.l.. Garden centres were the most common locations (66.7%), followed by streets/squares (57.1%), private gardens (46.4%) and cemeteries (21.1%) (p < 0.01). The main larval habitats were catch basins (48.5%) and artificial water containers (41.8%). As for Aedes albopictus [Stegomyia albopicta], ovitraps were attractive for adult females resulting in the higher rate of positivity (15/21; 71.4%) among breeding sites. The period of Ae. koreicus activity ranged from March 29 to October 29.
Conclusion
The species is clearly established in the area and is now overlapping with other vectors such as Ae. albopictus and colonizing areas over 800 m.a.s.l, not yet or sporadically reached by the tiger mosquito. The data collected are essential to assess the risk of colonization of other parts of Italy and Europe, as well as the risk of spreading of pathogens transmitted. These findings stress the importance of implementing entomological surveillance for early detection of invasive species, which is necessary for eradication or limitation of its further spread.
doi:10.1186/1756-3305-6-292
PMCID: PMC3852218  PMID: 24457085
Aedes koreicus; Invasive mosquito species; Entomological surveillance; North-eastern Italy
5.  Risk of canine and human exposure to Dirofilaria immitis infected mosquitoes in endemic areas of Italy 
Parasites & Vectors  2013;6:60.
Background
The occurrence of infections by Dirofilaria immitis in canine and human populations depends on several factors linked to both the definitive and intermediate hosts. Little data are available on the risk of human and dog exposure to D. immitis in endemic areas. Data collected on dog- and human-bait traps in endemic areas of north-eastern Italy were used to estimate the likelihood of a receptive host coming into contact with an infected vector.
Methods
From 1997 to 1999, mosquitoes were collected from three sampling sites of north-eastern Italy on D. immitis microfilaraemic dogs and on human baits. The bite/night/host rates were determined based on the number of feeding and probing mosquitoes on dogs and humans, respectively. The survival/mortality rates of different species of mosquitoes following the blood meal, and the rate of natural Dirofilaria infection in unfed specimens were estimated. The risk of exposure of dogs and humans to infected mosquito species was determined by combining the bite/host/night and the mosquito infection rates.
Results
A total of 1,165 mosquitoes were collected on human (n = 815) and dog (n = 350) baits with varying species composition (i.e., Culex pipiens, 87.3% and Ochlerotatus caspius, 11.6%). Overall, dogs were more attractive to Cx pipiens than humans (feeding rate 70.2% vs probing rate 25.9%). The highest bite/night/host rate was 84.0 for dogs and 26.5 for humans. Cx pipiens displayed a mortality rate of 76.3% within 13 days and Oc. caspius of 100% within two days following the infective blood meal. In addition, D. immitis DNA was detected in unfed Cx pipiens (infection rate of 0.26%-2.07%). The infection rate adjusted for mosquito mortality was 0.38%. Based on data collected, the contact between an infected mosquito and a host can occur as often as every four nights for D. immitis infected-mosquitoes in dogs and within two weeks for humans.
Conclusions
Cx pipiens was confirmed as the most efficient natural vector of D. immitis in the studied area. In endemic areas, the risk of transmission can be very high for dogs and relevant for humans. Despite the increased awareness of veterinarians and owners on canine dirofilarioses, dogs from rural areas still maintain the natural life cycle of Dirofilaria spp., therefore acting as a source of infection to humans through vector bites.
doi:10.1186/1756-3305-6-60
PMCID: PMC3599681  PMID: 23510597
Dirofilaria immitis; Mosquito vectors; Dogs; Humans; Risk of exposure
6.  Occurrence and identification of risk areas of Ixodes ricinus-borne pathogens: a cost-effectiveness analysis in north-eastern Italy 
Parasites & Vectors  2012;5:61.
Background
Ixodes ricinus, a competent vector of several pathogens, is the tick species most frequently reported to bite humans in Europe. The majority of human cases of Lyme borreliosis (LB) and tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) occur in the north-eastern region of Italy. The aims of this study were to detect the occurrence of endemic and emergent pathogens in north-eastern Italy using adult tick screening, and to identify areas at risk of pathogen transmission. Based on our results, different strategies for tick collection and pathogen screening and their relative costs were evaluated and discussed.
Methods
From 2006 to 2008 adult ticks were collected in 31 sites and molecularly screened for the detection of pathogens previously reported in the same area (i.e., LB agents, TBE virus, Anaplasma phagocytophilum, Rickettsia spp., Babesia spp., "Candidatus Neoehrlichia mikurensis"). Based on the results of this survey, three sampling strategies were evaluated a-posteriori, and the impact of each strategy on the final results and the overall cost reductions were analyzed. The strategies were as follows: tick collection throughout the year and testing of female ticks only (strategy A); collection from April to June and testing of all adult ticks (strategy B); collection from April to June and testing of female ticks only (strategy C).
Results
Eleven pathogens were detected in 77 out of 193 ticks collected in 14 sites. The most common microorganisms detected were Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato (17.6%), Rickettsia helvetica (13.1%), and "Ca. N. mikurensis" (10.5%). Within the B. burgdorferi complex, four genotypes (i.e., B. valaisiana, B. garinii, B. afzelii, and B. burgdorferi sensu stricto) were found. Less prevalent pathogens included R. monacensis (3.7%), TBE virus (2.1%), A. phagocytophilum (1.5%), Bartonella spp. (1%), and Babesia EU1 (0.5%). Co-infections by more than one pathogen were diagnosed in 22% of infected ticks. The prevalences of infection assessed using the three alternative strategies were in accordance with the initial results, with 13, 11, and 10 out of 14 sites showing occurrence of at least one pathogen, respectively. The strategies A, B, and C proposed herein would allow to reduce the original costs of sampling and laboratory analyses by one third, half, and two thirds, respectively. Strategy B was demonstrated to represent the most cost-effective choice, offering a substantial reduction of costs, as well as reliable results.
Conclusions
Monitoring of tick-borne diseases is expensive, particularly in areas where several zoonotic pathogens co-occur. Cost-effectiveness studies can support the choice of the best monitoring strategy, which should take into account the ecology of the area under investigation, as well as the available budget.
doi:10.1186/1756-3305-5-61
PMCID: PMC3337281  PMID: 22452970
Ixodes ricinus; tick-borne diseases; surveillance; economic evaluation; Italy.

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