With hundreds of thousands of additional refugees expected to arrive in Southern and Eastern Europe over the winter - and with reception facilities overcrowded, underfunded, and stretched to their limits - there are growing concerns over their impact on Europe’s public health system.
First the press summary, followed by links to the full report, and then a brief excerpt.
17 Nov 2015
As winter in Europe approaches, refugees and irregular migrants living in reception centres or in camps may be facing new communicable disease threats to their own health.
A new ECDC rapid risk assessment addresses the key communicable disease health threats currently facing refugee populations, and highlights that while these groups may themselves be more vulnerable to a variety of diseases, they do not represent a threat to established European populations in terms of infectious disease.
Risks posed by diseases whose spread is facilitated by overcrowding, inadequate sanitation and lower temperatures have increased. Cases of louse-borne relapsing fever have already been seen in different locations along the route followed by refugees arriving in Italy. Unless appropriate hygiene measures are implemented in the near future, more cases may be seen among refugees who have recently arrived in the EU.
Refugees arriving in the EU may not be fully vaccinated against a range of vaccine-preventable diseases. They may therefore be more susceptible to outbreaks of diseases such as measles. Offering vaccination to new arrivals in the EU is therefore one of a number of options available to Member States working to limit potential health problems in these vulnerable populations.
Read the full rapid risk assessment: Communicable disease risks associated with the movement of refugees in Europe during the winter season
Rapid risk assessment: Louse-borne relapsing fever in the Netherlands
Expert opinion on the public health needs of irregular migrants, refugees or asylum seekers across the EU’s southern and south-eastern borders
A small excerpt from today’s detailed, 10 page report:
The scale of the current influx of refugees is inevitably putting pressure on public health systems in frontline receiving countries.
Refugees do not currently represent a threat to Europe with respect to communicable diseases, but they are a priority group for communicable disease prevention and control efforts because they are more vulnerable. The risk to refugees arriving in Europe of contracting communicable diseases has increased due to the current overcrowding at reception facilities, resulting in compromised hygiene and sanitation arrangements. While the risk of mosquito-borne diseases has been reduced as a result of the approaching winter, the risk of other diseases whose spread is facilitated by overcrowding and lower temperatures has increased as a result of greater numbers of refugees likely to be gathering in close proximity to seek shelter from the cold weather. It is therefore expected that the incidence of respiratory and gastrointestinal conditions will increase in the coming months.
Recent weeks have seen reports of emerging outbreaks of communicable diseases affecting the refugee population. Of particular concern is the emergence of 27 cases of louse borne relapsing fever (LBRF) in different locations along the route followed by the refugees arriving in Italy. The probable transmission of LBRF among refugee communities in the EU indicates that more cases may be seen in the near future, unless appropriate hygiene measures are implemented rapidly.
Low coverage for some vaccines, along with low immunity for some diseases, may result in susceptible refugees developing diseases such as measles and chickenpox (varicella), given the high incidence of these in some areas of the EU.
The risk to European residents of being affected by outbreaks occurring among refugee populations remains extremely low since the compromised hygiene, overcrowding and limited access to clean water responsible for their transmission are specific to the reception facilities in which they are occurring.