Concerns climate change will see tick-borne diseases spread to the UK are legitimate, says PHE

By Gareth Macdonald

- Last updated on GMT

Climate change may let vector-borne diseases spread to UK
Climate change may let vector-borne diseases spread to UK

Related tags Malaria

Concerns climate change will see malaria, West Nile virus and chikungunya spread to the UK are legitimate according to Public Health England, even though no insects carrying such diseases have been detected to date.

The Government health body set out its concerns in a paper in the Lancet last month,​ citing the rapid spread of ticks and mosquitoes in Europe over the past few years – as well as things like the re-emergence of Malaria in Greece – as the basis for its warning.

Study co-author Jolyon Medlock told that Public Health England (PHE) has established systems to detect insects with the potential to carry such disease in the UK.

We have been conducting surveillance of invasive mosquitoes at UK sea ports and airports, used tyre companies and more recently at motorway service stations​” Medlock said, adding that the team tries to collect adult insects and eggs.

So far we have not found any of these species in the UK, but they have been reported in 25 European countries. The diseases associated with these mosquitoes have not been detected as local cases in the UK, but they have been detected in travellers to endemic regions​.”

If accurate, PHE’s predictions are a concern because – as Medlock points out – “there are currently no vaccines available for dengue or Chikungunya viruses, although much effort is focalised globally to develop such vaccines​.”

French drugmaker Sanofi is due to launch a dengue fever vaccine later this year​.

Lack of meds

The World Health Organisation (WHO) highlighted the lack of drugs being developed for tick-borne diseases last year​, arguing that better data on the global burden of such illnesses may be needed to encourage profit-driven drugmakers to invest in R&D. 

At the time WHO information officer Ashok Moloo told us the lower money making potential offered by drugs for tick-borne disease was the primary reason drugmakers do not invest in developing such medications.

Whether this will change if these diseases spread to richer western countries remains to be seen. The ABPI told us it would not comment about the implications for the spread of tick and mosquito-borne diseases to the UK.

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