A BRAIN disease spread to humans by ticks has been identified in the UK for the first time after a tourist became ill visiting the New Forest.
Public Health England (PHE) has confirmed that the tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) has now been detected in a small number of ticks in an area on the border between Hampshire and Dorset, although would not give a specific location.
Thetford Forest in Suffolk has been confirmed as the second location to be affected.
The infection is endemic in mainland Europe and Scandinavia, as well as Asia. Most people who catch it will not have any symptoms, although it can cause flu-like symptoms.
In a small number of cases can progress to more serious disease involving the central nervous system.
The New Forest is a tick hotspot, partly due to the number of deer who carry the blood-sucking creatures.
A statement by PHE said: “Earlier this year a European visitor became ill after being bitten by a tick in the New Forest area. This is considered to be a highly probable case of tick-borne encephalitis.
“The patient, who was reported to PHE, has since made a full recovery. To date, no other cases considered likely to have been acquired in the UK have been identified.”
Dr Nick Phin, deputy director of the national infections service at PHE, added: “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.”
Ticks carry a number of infections, so the public are being urged to be aware and take precautions, particularly when visiting or working in areas with long grass such as woodlands, moorlands and parks.
Lyme disease, which causes a red circular rash as well as flu-like symptoms, remains the most common tick-borne infection in the UK.
Although ticks are found throughout the year, they are most active between spring and autumn.
PHE advises that anyone who begins to feel unwell with flu-like symptoms following a tick bite should contact their GP or ring the non-emergency medical helpline, 111.