Europe unite against ambrosia

Allergies cost Europe’s healthcare systems more than 25 billion euros annually and pollen-induced respiratory allergy is increasing. In the worst-hit areas, one in five children suffer from allergies caused by ragweed pollen.  Blame for the growing spread of allergies and their consequences has been often put on climate changes and global warming. An international team of scientists is now going to investigate the future impact of global warming on allergic diseases.

The team will focus its attention on the spread of the invasive species Ambrosia Artemisiifolia – or common ragweed.  An annual herbaceous plant native of North America, ambrosia artemisiifolia has spread to Europe and Japan where it invades crops, reducing yields for farmers, and is reaching epidemic proportions in many parts of mainland Europe.Its pollen is also highly allergenic, causing hayfever, asthma and eczema, to the point that many European countries have introduces mandatory eradicating campaigns for estate owners and municipalities.

The three-year international project, the first of its kind, has been launched three days ago in Vienna. Researchers will explore how rising temperatures exacerbate the serious health problems caused by ragweed – by increasing the amount of pollen the plant produces, by widening its geographical distribution, and by elongating the pollen season.

Involved in the research are environmental scientists – biologists, immunologists, allergists, dermatologists, physicists and climate scientists – from Austria, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Croatia and the UK. The latter is the only Eu country where the ragweed has not made any intrusion yet: fears are, though, that international transports and winds will favor its spread on the British isles soon if no action is taken.

Funded by the European Commission, the study is expected to provide the findings the EU needs to shape its policy on coping with the growing health problems caused by global environmental change.

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