A potentially fatal tick-borne disease has been detected in ticks in the United Kingdom for the first time, Public Health England (PHE) announced this week.
Tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) was found in a “small number” of ticks in Thetford Forest in eastern England as well as an “area on the border between Hampshire and Dorset,” officials said in a Tuesday news release. TBEV can cause tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) in humans if they are bitten by an infected tick.
In the release, PHE said there has been at least one “highly probable” case of TBE. Earlier this year, a European visitor was sickened with what officials said was likely TBE after he or she was bitten by a tick in the New Forest area. The patient has since recovered, however.
No other cases of TBE in the UK have been reported and health officials said the risk to the public is “very low.”
TBE, a human viral infectious disease, is endemic in Asia, Scandinavia and mainland Europe, according to PHE. Most people infected with TBE won’t experience any symptoms, though certain flu-like symptoms — fever, headache, fatigue, and nausea, among others — can occur. However, a person’s central nervous system can be affected during the second phase of the illness, which occurs in roughly 20 to 30 percent of TBE patients, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The second phase can lead to meningitis or encephalitis (swelling of the brain). Death can occur as a result of the disease, though mortality is rare.
“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,” said Dr. Nick Phin, with PHE, in a statement. "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.”