Colony of mosquitoes that spread lethal West Nile virus found in Scottish village

By Paul Kelbie,Scotland Correspondent
Saturday 17 September 2011 13:32

The mosquito that can carry the deadly West Nile virus has been found in a Scottish village.

The mosquito that can carry the deadly West Nile virus has been found in a Scottish village.

Scientists fear that the colony of insects at Menstrie in Clackmannanshire may breed with native species and create a hybrid capable of surviving Britain's temperate climate.

More than 40 households in the village have complained about bites from the insects, which are believed to have arrived from Europe in a lorry.

While there have been no reports of the UK colony infecting anyone with the African virus, which killed 284 and infected more than 4,000 in the United States last year, scientists and environmental health officials have stepped up surveillance.

Ian Doctor, of Clackmannanshire council's environmental health department, said: "Hopefully this colony has now been brought under control but we are continuing to monitor the situation.

"We are working with scientists to establish whether the foreign mosquitoes are continuing to survive in our climate or if they have managed to breed with native species.''

Those bitten by infected mosquitoes usually develop a fever, head and body aches as the virus travels in the bloodstream towards the brain. Once in the brain the virus causes severe encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). The chances of survival are especially low among the young, old, and those with weakened immune systems. The Menstrie mosquitoes were identified by Colin Malcolm, who is a lecturer in molecular genetics at the University of London. He said: "Their discovery should alert us that foreign mosquitoes are coming to our shores and setting up shop."

Experts think the colony may be the offspring of a single female mosquito. Birds are believed to be the main host of the virus, identified in Uganda in 1937, which is spread by mosquitoes drinking the birds' blood. Last year, 17 people died and 305 others were struck down in Canada, and in 1996, 90,000 people were affected in Romania, of whom 17 died.

"We have not found any evidence that these mosquitoes are carrying the virus and nobody has been treated for anything more than an uncomfortable bite,'' said Mr Doctor. "However, we are continuing to work with the scientists on this and a full report is expected to be finished later this year."

The West Nile Virus has been found in 43 mosquito species. In Europe, the principal vectors are Culex pipiens, Culex modestus, and Coquillettidia richiardii.

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