Brits may need vaccine for new virus as UK gets warmer, expert warns

Warning that Brits may need another vaccine for new tick-borne virus

  • There have been three cases of tick-borne encephalitis in the UK since 2019 
  • Virology expert Professor Ian Jones has suggested jabs for those most exposed 
  • Read more: The four must-know rules on how to safely remove a tick

Brits may need yet another vaccine as a new and dangerous tick-borne virus could spread as the country gets warmer, an expert has warned. 

Three cases of tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) have been confirmed by the UK Health Security Agency in Yorkshire, Norfolk, and on the border of Hampshire and Dorset. 

Health authorities have warned the disease could be present elsewhere in Britain, however.

Experts have suggested a vaccine could be introduced for those who work in long grass and, therefore, are at the most risk of a bite. Holidaymakers going to badly-hit countries can already get the jab.

Professor Ian Jones, a virology expert at the University of Reading, told The Mirror: ‘I think that the spread that’s happened in the last three years will continue, so I don’t think it’s going away.

Brits may need another vaccine, this time for a dangerous tick borne virus, new to the UK, as the country gets warmer, an expert has warned

‘It will become more prominent in the tick species across the country.’

Those most at risk are thought to be forestry workers and countryside wardens who spend a lot of time in long grass where ticks frequently hide.

The UKHSA are investigating the spread and a surveillance programme has been established, with the NHS asked to send samples from suspected cases for testing.

Public health officials have said while the risk of TBEV is low, walkers should take precautions and seek medical help if they fall ill after being bitten.

‘It’s there, it’s used, it’s safe, we don’t need to invent a new one,’ he said, regarding a vaccine.

READ MORE: Deadly virus from tick bites that causes flu-like symptoms found in three patients in the UK 

However, he added that at present, the low number of cases wouldn’t support it being rolled out to the wider public.

Likening it to a rabies vaccine for bat handlers, he said a jab would instead offered to those most exposed to ticks.

He added that climate change could be to blame for the disease spreading in the UK, as ticks are ‘more active in warmer weather’.

The combination of longer periods of warm weather and therefore more people spending time outside, could be increasing the risk of it spreading, he claimed. 

‘That’s tick to tick and then also more opportunity for occasional human infections,’ he said. 

But he added he did not think cases would go up ‘in a significant way’ and that he doesn’t feel the disease ‘represents a particular threat to people’.

Three cases of tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) in patients have been confirmed by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) in Yorkshire, Norfolk and on the border of Hampshire and Dorset (stock image)

This is because catching the disease only comes from different contact with a tick, and is therefore limited to those undertaking outdoor pursuits.

TBEV typically causes mild flu-like symptoms but can also lead to severe infection in the central nervous system such, as meningitis or encephalitis in some cases.

The more serious cases can include a high fever with headache, neck stiffness, confusion, or reduced consciousness.

Dr Helen Callaby, of the UKSA, said: ‘Although the risk to the general public is very low, it is important for people to take precautions to protect themselves from tick bites, such as covering their ankles and legs, applying insect repellent and checking clothes and your body for ticks, particularly when visiting areas with long grass such as woods, moorlands and parks.’

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