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Infectious brain disease spread by ticks has reached the UK

An infectious disease that is spread by ticks has been detected in the UK for the first time.

Public Health England (PHE) said tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) has been detected in a small number of the insects in Thetford Forest and an area on the border between Hampshire and Dorset.

A spokesman for PHE said the infectious disease, which is spread to people through the bite of infected ticks, is endemic in mainland Europe and Scandinavia, as well as Asia. However, earlier this year a European visitor became ill after being bitten by a tick in the New Forest area.

Most people who catch TBEV will not have any symptoms – though it can cause flu-like symptoms which, in a small number of cases, can progress to more serious diseases, including inflammation of the brain. However, the risk from TBEV has been assessed as very low and, to date, no other cases of the virus being acquired in the UK have been identified, the spokesman said.

The findings are part of ongoing research by Public Health England and the Emerging and Zoonotic Infections National Institute for Health Research at the University of Liverpool.

Dr Nick Phin, deputy director, National Infections Service, Public Health England says that, although the risk to the public is low, people still need to be ‘tick aware’. He said:

‘These are early research findings and indicate the need for further work, however, the risk to the general public is currently assessed to be very low.

‘Ticks carry a number of infections including Lyme disease, so we are reminding people to be ‘tick aware’ and take tick precautions, particularly when visiting or working in areas with long grass such as woodlands, moorlands and parks.’

Lyme disease remains the most common tick-borne infection in the UK, and the risk of acquiring Lyme substantially outweighs that of acquiring TBEV.

Ticks are found throughout the year – but are most active between spring and autumn.

Contact your GP or dial 111 if you begin to feel unwell with flu-like symptoms following a tick bite.

Picture Credit – Pixabay

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