Health: Out of Africa, malaria strikes back: Martyn Halle looks at how changes in our climate are letting the mosquito thrive again

When a species of mosquito normally resident in North Africa was found living on Anglesey, experts were astonished. The species, Anopheles algeriencis, was detected in 1988 and had survived in the hotter summers and warmer winters of recent years. Concerns are growing that climate changes could open the door to an invasion of tropical diseases.

Some of these concerns have been expressed in an unpublished report prepared by the Government's Public Health Laboratory Service two years ago. In July Greenpeace published its own report, listing illnesses ranging from malaria to bubonic plague and tick-borne infections, which enter the body through the skin.

One of the authors of the PHLS document, Dr Ian Burgess, deputy director of the Medical Entomology Service at Cambridge University, says: 'Malaria was with us until between the wars and was fairly prevalent among people living and working in rural parts. The strain we had here was not nearly as serious as the type that kills people in the tropics, but it is a very nasty illness.

'There is no evidence that the mosquitoes in North Wales are infected with malaria, but the possibilities of a link exist because malaria mosquitoes are discovered here, on planes and ships.'

The last major epidemic of malaria in Britain came just after the First World War, when thousands were affected. It lingered for many years in parts of southern England and finally died out in the Fifties. Malaria is recorded in our history. Cromwell is said to have died from it, and Sir Walter Ralegh's apparent nervous shaking as he was about to be beheaded was put down to the disease.

Dr Burgess was disappointed that the PHLS did not publish the report. 'Everyone was under the impression that the findings could be made public and I think the public are entitled to know what the potential risks may be.'

Dr Chris Curtis, an entomologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, believes the British strain of the disease, Plasmodium vivax, could make a comeback, but he does not expect to see many cases. 'The last time we had any reported incidences were in the Fifties,' he says.

But Dr Burgess thinks that a greater threat comes from a range of tick-borne diseases spreading up through southern and northern Europe. Leishmaniasis, endemic in France, is a parasitic disease that leads to multiple ulcerated lesions which can last for six to 12 months, although relapsing forms might last for 50 years. Another form of the disease is characterised by long, irregular bouts of fever, enlargement of the spleen and progressive emaciation. If untreated, it can lead to death. It is passed on by a species of sandfly, and climatic factors are decisive in its spread. Even a small degree of warming could lead to an extension northwards of the disease, possibly into southern England.

Rickettsiosis, an illness which can be spread by dog ticks, is also marching north and could arrive via holidaymakers. In its severe form it can cause high fever, delirium, stupor and coma.

'These types of infection could be much more easily spread and more difficult to eradicate than an outbreak of malaria,' says Dr Burgess. 'We really have to be on our guard to detect any invasion of these ticks.'

One which is creating problems in Europe at present is a disease spread by sheep ticks called viral encephalitis. It causes severe headaches, fever, nausea and photophobia and can lead to a form of meningitis. Mortality rates are high and it is already well established as close as eastern France.

Dr Burgess says that warming is also likely to leads to outbreaks of dysentery, paratyphoid and water- borne parasitic diseases. 'Dysentery outbreaks at schools are becoming quite common. In recent years there have been more than 5,000 reported cases.'

He pointed out that in 1989 in Hull, 477 people were affected with a diarrhoeal illness when a parasite got through after the water filter system was bypassed. This was reported by the departments of the Environment and Health in their investigation into the outbreak. One particularly virulent infection caused by a water parasite, cryptosporidiosis, can survive even after chlorination and there have been several thousand cases.

'We cannot be blase. In the past we were vigilant about diseases like smallpox and we need to be aware of new illnesses so they don't gain a foothold,' Dr Burgess warns.

'Potential Impact of Climate Change on Health in the UK', pounds 2.50 from Greenpeace, Canonbury Villas, London N1 2PN.

Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

    £17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

    Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

    £16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'