Brain illness spread by ticks spotted in the UK for the first time

Killer brain disease that spreads to humans from TICKS is found in the UK for the first time in two of Britain’s most popular holiday destinations

  • Public Health England has confirmed the presence of tick-borne encephalitis 
  • PHE spotted it in Thetford Forest, Norfolk and on the Hampshire-Dorset border
  • It says the risk of catching the virus is very low but it is currently investigating 

A killer brain illness spread to humans by tick bites has been identified in the UK for the first time.

Public Health England (PHE) has confirmed a handful of ticks carrying encephalitis in Thetford Forest, Norfolk and on the Hampshire-Dorset border.

PHE says the risk of catching the virus is very low but ‘there is the potential for human contact’. It is currently investigating how common the infected ticks may be.

Public Health England (PHE) has confirmed the presence of tick-borne encephalitis in Thetford Forest, Norfolk and on the Hampshire-Dorset border

PHE says the risk of catching the virus is very low but it is currently investigating how common the infected ticks may be

Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) is an infection spread by tick bites.

According to the NHS, it is not found in the UK but is present in other parts of Europe, Russia, China and Japan.

Symptoms can be flu-like, such as feeling hot, headaches, aching muscles and nausea.

Some also develop a circular red rash.

In severe cases, TBE can cause brain inflammation, which may lead to sufferers experiencing a stiff neck, dislike of bright lights, seizures,  behavioural changes or loss of movement.

Ticks live in forests and grassy areas. Therefore people may be more at risk if they are hiking or camping, however, not all ticks spread TBE.

If visiting an area with TBE, people can get vaccinated against the virus, with two jabs offering around a year’s protection.

This vaccine is not available on the NHS. 

Until now, the virus had never been found in the UK. However, it is prevalent in most regions of Europe, China and Japan.  

Ticks, small parasitic arachnids, are growing increasingly common in parts of the UK, mainly due to increasing deer numbers.

As well as living on deer, ticks can be found on other animals, such as cats, dogs and urban foxes.

Ticks, which can be about the size of a pin head, can also live on plants and long grass and grab onto people who brush past them with exposed skin. They bite by burying their head into the flesh and sucking blood from inside.

In addition to the encephalitis virus, ticks can also carry other diseases, including Lyme disease. They can also cause you to develop a potentially deadly allergy to meat. 

Dr Nick Phin of PHE 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.’

PHE said they suspect a European patient who became ill after being bitten by a tick in the New Forest area had tick borne encephalitis (TBE). They made a full recovery.

According to the Encephalitis Society, a charity which supports people affected by all types of encephalitis, less than two per cent of people die from the viral infection. 

The illness begins with flu-like symptoms before progressing to a more serious second phase with meningitis and swelling of the brain in a quarter of cases.

Most patients with tick-borne encephalitis will recover, but a third may suffer long-term complications, including convulsions and paralysis.

There are no specific treatments for TBE, but preventative measures can be taken, including wearing long-sleeved tops and applying insect repellent. A vaccine exists – but it is not available on the NHS.

The small parasitic arachnids are becoming more common in parts of the UK, mainly due to increasing deer numbers

COULD TICK-BORNE ENCEPHALITIS BE IN THE LAKE DISTRICT? 

Public Health England is investigating how common the infected ticks may be, after it found them in Thetford Forest and on the Hampshire-Dorset border.

It comes after a dog walker last year claimed he caught tick-borne encephalitis while walking his dog near Millom in the Lake District. 

Tom Varga’s symptoms only came to light 10 months after he was bitten, when he began experiencing extreme fatigue, headaches and eye pain.

The sous chef was diagnosed with tick-born encephalitis. However, he admitted it was impossible to rule out he caught it in his native Hungary. 

The tick-borne encephalitis virus is already present in mainland Europe and parts of Asia. It is thought infected ticks may have arrived in the UK through migratory birds.

Experts have suggested rising temperatures caused by global warming are driving ticks northwards.

‘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,’ Dr Phin told the BBC.

The NHS advises that tick bites can be prevented by covering skin while walking outdoors, using existing paths and nature trails, applying insect repellent and checking your clothes and hair after going for a walk.

It comes after a dog walker last year claimed he caught tick-borne encephalitis while walking his dog near Millom in the Lake District. 

Tom Varga’s symptoms only came to light 10 months after he was bitten, when he began experiencing extreme fatigue, headaches and eye pain.

The sous chef was diagnosed with tick-born encephalitis. However, he admitted it was impossible to rule out he caught it in his native Hungary. 

Thousands of English football fans were warned about the risk of catching tick-borne encephalitis during the World Cup in Russia last summer.

The Encephalitis Society claimed the ticks can be found in Kaliningrad, Volgograd and Nizhny Novgorod – where England played their three group games. 

Ava Easton, chief executive of the charity, warned they are a ‘serious health concern’ for up to 20,000 English travellers expected to make the journey.

How to prevent tick bites

Avoid Direct Contact with Ticks

  • Avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter
  • Walk in the center of trails 

Repel Ticks on Skin and Clothing

  • Use repellent that contains 20% or more DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 on exposed skin for protection that lasts several hours
  • NB Always follow product instructions. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding hands, eyes, and mouth 
  • Use products that contain permethrin on clothing; treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents with products containing 0.5% permethrin. It remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is available and may be protective longer
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has an online tool to help you select the repellent that is best for you and your family 

Find and Remove Ticks from Your Body

  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you
  • Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon return from tick-infested areas 
  • Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in their hair
  • Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and day packs  
  • Tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing after you come indoors
  • NB If the clothes are damp, additional time may be needed
  • If the clothes require washing first, hot water is recommended; cold and medium temperature water will not kill ticks effectively  
  • If the clothes cannot be washed in hot water, tumble dry on low heat for 90 minutes or high heat for 60 minutes. The clothes should be warm and completely dry 

 Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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