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Climate Change and Infectious Disease in Humans in the UK

Published Friday, December 18, 2015

A short paper describing the impact of climate change on infectious diseases transmitted by mosquitoes and ticks in the UK.

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Overview

Predicting likely risks of vector-borne disease (such as mosquitoes and ticks) related to average increased temperature with any certainty is extremely difficult, largely because of the complex interactions between species and their lifecycles and other ecological and social factors.

Ticks

The main species of concern in the UK are ticks and mosquitoes. Ticks can transmit the infection Lyme borreliosis which causes Lyme disease. There are an estimated 1,000-2,000 cases in England every year. It is unclear how tick populations might change with warming climate but evidence shows that the geographical distribution of other tick-borne diseases (tick-borne encephalitis and Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever virus) are changing and now endemic in eastern and some parts of southern Europe. Such species are currently unable to survive in the UK’s current climate, but a drier or warmer UK climate could allow them to establish in the UK.

Find out more about ticks and Lyme disease in this Public Health England video;

 

 

Mosquitoes

The mosquito species Aedes albopictus is a vector for dengue fever and chikungunya (a viral infection with malaria-like symptoms). It has already established in temperate parts of Europe (but not yet in the UK), increasing the incidence of these diseases in Europe. Aedes albopictus is “It is lilely that it will be established in northern France (including Paris) in the next few years, creating potential new routes for their importation into the UK. Public Health England has published a detailed assessment of the risk that chikungunya virus poses to the UK population. No cases have been locally acquired in the UK so far, but if the mosquito species that can transmit the virus were to establish in the UK the human health impact would be significant. Some studies involving complex theoretical models indicate that the climate will be more suitable for these mosquitoes by 2030. Climate change could also make habitats more favourable for other mosquito populations – some of which are native to the UK – as well as the disease-causing pathogens they carry.

Summary

It is argued that existing surveillance mechanisms should be strengthened to monitor species of concern and the mechanisms by which invasive species arrive in the UK. Furthermore, assessing a broad range of factors that give rise to changes in the distribution and abundance of species is needed in order to inform policies to mitigate their effects, particularly from a public health perspective.

 

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The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology produces independent, balanced and accessible briefings on public policy issues related to science and technology.