PHE confirms presence of potentially fatal tick-borne disease in the UK
Encephalitis virus produces mild flu-like symptoms, but it can affect the brain and central nervous system
A potentially fatal disease spread by tick bites has been found in the UK for the first time.
Public Health England (PHE) confirmed the presence of the tick-borne encephalitis virus in Thetford Forest, Norfolk, and on the Hampshire-Dorset border.
PHE believes a ‘handful’ of infected ticks were found in both locations, with only one highly probable case of tick-borne encephalitis so far.
Risk ‘very low’
The health body said the risk is very low, but it is investigating how common the ticks with the virus might be.
PHE national infections service deputy director Nick Phin said: ‘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.’
Most people who catch the encephalitis virus will have no or only mild flu-like symptoms, but it can affect the brain and central nervous system, sometimes fatally.
It is thought infected ticks may have arrived in the UK through migratory birds.
In addition to the encephalitis virus, ticks can also carry other diseases, including Lyme disease.
Ticks are becoming more common in parts of the UK, mainly due to increasing deer numbers.
The small arachnids can latch onto people walking through undergrowth and long grass.
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.
According to the Encephalitis Society, a charity which supports people affected by all types of encephalitis, less than 2% of people die from the viral infection.
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