Mosquito invasion brings disease risk to UK

A A A

An Asian mosquito species is poised to arrive in Britain, bringing with it the risk of a potentially lethal disease that the insect can pass from one person to another.

The Asian tiger mosquito has already established itself in northern Italy where it has transmitted chikungunya fever to scores of people. The insect has also been detected in a dozen other European countries, including Germany and the Netherlands.

Health experts are concerned that Britain could be the next country to be invaded after scientists at the Government's Health Protection Agency (HPA) at Porton Down in Wiltshire found that the UK climate is suitable for the mosquito to breed.

The Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, has spread rapidly around the world due to the international trade in used car tyres, which carry the mosquito's eggs in trapped water inside the rim of the tyre. However, the popularity of lucky bamboo – a Chinese house plant that is transported in water-filled pots – has also spread the insect through ports such as Rotterdam.

A study by HPA scientists found that "widespread establishment" of the Asian tiger mosquito across England and Wales is possible in the warm, damp conditions of the British summer, which would increase the risk of chikungunya fever spreading among the local population.

"The mosquito has popped up across Europe and although we haven't found it yet in the UK, we have identified the potential for it to come here," said a spokesman of the HPA's Porton Down laboratories.

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of British people returning from South-east Asia with chikungunya virus over recent years – from about six a year in 2004 to more than 130 in 2006 – and if the tiger mosquito becomes established here it could create a locally spread epidemic. "You do need several steps in the chain for it to become an issue, but it's something we've been keeping an eye on. Most people think of malaria, but there are other things you can catch from mosquitoes," the spokesman said.

People with chikungunya develop a fever that lasts a couple of days but they go on to suffer intense headaches, joint pains and insomnia for days or weeks after they are bitten. One woman died during last year's Italian outbreak. The virus was confined to certain parts of south-east Asia but in recent years it has spread across the Indian sub-continent, aided by the tiger mosquito. The start of the Italian epidemic was traced to an Italian tourist who had returned last June from the Indian state of Kerala with a fever.

Between June and September there were 292 suspected cases of chikungunya fever in the north-eastern Italian province of Ravenna, where the tiger mosquito has become well established since its first documented appearance in Italy in 1990.

A report by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) in Stockholm found that the invading population of tiger mosquitoes in Ravenna caused the chikungunya virus to spread from the single infected tourist to scores of local residents. "The outbreak of chikungunya fever in north-eastern Italy is the first documented local vector-borne transmission of chikungunya virus within the European mainland," the report said. The report added that the importance of the event "should not be underestimated".

The mosquito managed to transmit the disease to a third of the inhabitants of the French island of La Reunion in the Indian Ocean in the space of a few weeks.

The ECDC has also identified parts of Britain, including southern England, as being suitable for the tiger mosquito.

The female mosquito can feed on human blood and is known for her quick, penetrating bite and the fact that she feeds throughout the day, and not just in the evening like many other mosquitoes. It is also known to transmit dengue fever and can carry about 20 other viral diseases.

The illnesses that could hitch a ride to Britain

The tiger mosquito can carry the following:

* Chikungunya

Begins with a fever that lasts a few days but persistent headaches and pains in the joints and limbs can last for weeks or months.

* Dengue

Caused by another virus but with similar symptoms to chikungunya – fever followed by severe pain in the joints, headaches and vomiting.

* Yellow fever

Sudden fever and headaches but can develop into chills, bleeding, rapid heartbeat, headache, back pains as well as "coffee ground" vomit that contains blood.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links