Researchers believe that pest borne diseases such as Dengue Fever and the West Nile Virus, which already pose a serious threat to all countries in the European continent, are now a significant cause for concern in the U.K.
Stagnant floodwater is already increasing the prevalence of mosquitoes, and the movement of wild deer is increasing the presence of infected ticks, making the spread of pest borne diseases all the more worrisome, warns the Wales director of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health.
At the conference of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH), held in Cardiff, Wales, experts will meet and explain how diseases that were once considered "exotic and confined to far away places" could eventually emerge in the United Kingdom.
These diseases are capable of spreading at a rapid rate. For example, in the U.S. the West Nile Virus was first detected in Queens New York in 1999 - since then it has spread across the whole country. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that last year 1,993 people were confirmed nationwide with WNV (West Nile virus) infection - 87 of them died. The CDC says that the case-fatality rates range from 3% to 15%.
In addition, the number of Lyme disease cases in northern U.S. states is rising significantly, according to a study published in the journal CMAJ Open.
In Europe there have already been 115 cases of the West Nile Virus (in Greece, Romania and Italy) as well as 244 cases in nearby countries. According to the Hellenic Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the 2010 Greek outbreak was responsible for the deaths of 13 and hospitalization of 32 people.
Some of these countries are close to the U.K., something that is starting to alarm UK health officials.
In fact, diseases which were once considered "rare" are being diagnosed at increasing rates in the U.K. Lyme disease has already spread across the country with 200 reported cases of in 2001 increasing to 959 in 2011, according data from the HPA (Health Protection Agency).
A study by researchers at Bristol University showed that the risk of a person living in the UK becoming infected with Lyme disease is much greater than previously thought - many pet dogs in the country harbor the ticks that transmit the disease.
Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease in the Northern Hemisphere. Symptoms include: fever, headache, and a circular skin rash called erythema migrans (EM). There is also a high potential for misdiagnosis, because the symptoms of Lyme disease are similar to those of some other illnesses.
The experts will talk about measures that the UK government should implement in order to prevent and control the emergence of such pest-borne diseases.
Julie Barratt, the Director of CIEH, said:
"With predicted changes to climate in the UK characterised with warming and wetter summers providing perfect breeding grounds for a number of pest borne diseases, we need to consider some robust public health measures to minimise the potential outbreaks. Pests will become a very serious public health issue in the UK as a result of climate change. The spread of West Nile Virus in the US and Lyme disease in Europe are warning signals of the impact of pests on public health"
The experts will put forward the following recommendations:
- Improving European mosquito control.
- Establishing a form of notification system to be used across the whole of Europe, ensuring timely reports to a central agency
- People should be informed and educated about the presentation of the diseases and prevention strategies
- Mosquito control practices need to be more coordinated
- Better surveillance activities
Written by Joseph Nordqvist