A deadly disease that kills up to half of everyone it infects is heading to the UK due to climate change, leading experts claim.
Zika and ‘breakbone’ fever will eventually spread on British soil too, they warned.
Scientists told MPs today that the diseases, transmitted by mosquitoes and ticks, will come to Britain as rising temperatures widen their range.
One of their main concerns is Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever (CCHF), a disease with a mortality rate of almost 40 percent. Rift Valley fever, another potential threat, could be even deadlier, numbers suggest.
Initial infections may go undetected because NHS medics are unfamiliar with the formally foreign pathogens, MPs also heard.
The World Health Organization (WHO), which lists CCHF as one of nine “priority diseases,” says it has already reached France.
A number of diseases transmitted by mosquitoes and ticks may be making their way to Britain thanks to warming temperatures. Experts have warned that Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever (CCHF) is already reaching France according to World Health Organization tracking
Professor James Wood, head of veterinary medicine at the University of Cambridge, told MPs on the Science, Innovation and Technology committee it was ‘highly likely’ that CCHF would reach the UK in the future.
“Some tick-borne infections, so Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, are very likely to spread in the UK through our ticks at some point,” he said.
He also said that Rift Valley Fever (RVF), a virus transmitted by mosquitoes that can kill up to half of patients who contract a severe form of the disease, is another pathogen likely on its way.
“There are other infections that can be transmitted by mosquitoes, like Rift Valley Fever, which could be next,” he said.
And he warned that such pathogens may initially slip under the radar because NHS medics are not trained to detect these diseases.
“The challenge will be early detection because our clinicians don’t know what they look like,” he said.
Professor Wood was one of many experts asked by MPs what factors could contribute to the emergence of new diseases in the UK.
Professor Bryan Charleston, director of the Pirbright Institute, which studies infectious diseases in animals, was also questioned by MPs and said there was a ‘slow northward march’ of insects that could transmit disease to the UK.
He added that this could lead to many dangerous pathogens effectively becoming native to Britain.
“Arthropod-borne viruses like dengue virus, zika virus, it is possible for those viruses to become established in the UK,” he said.
Professor Sir Peter Horby, director of the Pandemic Sciences Institute at the University of Oxford, said climate change was pushing the boundaries of where diseases can be found.
“Dengue, a classic South American, Southeast Asian disease and hyperendemic in those countries (has spread north), you’re now seeing transmission in the Mediterranean,” he said.
CCHF, RVF and Zika have all been cited by WHO as having the potential to cause a pandemic in the future.
Humans primarily catch CCHF from infected ticks, but it can also spread between humans through bodily fluids.
The disease has similar symptoms to Ebola at the beginning of the infection, including muscle pain, abdominal pain, sore throat and vomiting.
It can also cause bleeding, usually from the nose or from broken capillaries on the eyes and skin.
Other symptoms of the virus, which come on suddenly, include fever, dizziness, neck pain and stiffness, back pain, headache, sore eyes, and sensitivity to light.
CCHF, a tick-borne virus, has a fatality rate of up to 40 percent and causes symptoms similar to Ebola, according to the World Health Organization. Yesterday, Namibia’s Ministry of Health announced that one man had died from the disease, putting the country on high alert
The Zika virus is a flavivirus – a type of RNA virus – that is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected female mosquitoes
Dengue fever is a viral infection transmitted by mosquitoes and traditionally confined to tropical or subtropical climates. It infects an estimated 400 million people each year. Pictured: A house in Peru being disinfected against mosquitoes to prevent the spread of the disease
RVF is a viral disease most common in domesticated animals in sub-Saharan Africa, including cattle, buffaloes, sheep, goats, and camels.
Humans can get RVF through contact with blood, bodily fluids, or tissues of infected animals, or through bites from infected mosquitoes.
Most who contract RVF experience no symptoms or a mild, cold-like illness with fever, weakness, back pain, and dizziness.
It has an overall mortality rate of about 1 percent, but about one in 10 people develop severe symptoms that require hospital care.
The deadliest form of the disease is one that causes hemorrhagic fever, in which patients vomit blood and bleed from various orifices, and kills 50 percent of those who catch it.
Although humans can get RVF from mosquitoes that transmit an animal’s infection, no human-to-human infection has been recorded.
Zika, compared to the other pathogens, is not known for its mortality rate, but for its devastating effects on the health of unborn children.
The pathogen is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected female mosquitoes.
Very rarely it can be transmitted through sex with someone who has it, the NHS says.
For most people, the infection is mild and not harmful. However, it can cause problems for pregnant women.
The first recorded outbreak of Zika virus disease was reported in 2007 from the island of Yap – Federated States of Micronesia.
But since then, outbreaks of the Zika virus disease have been recorded in Africa, America, Asia and the Pacific.
The mosquito-borne virus caused global panic in 2016 after millions were infected, resulting in dozens of babies being born with birth defects such as microcephaly.
But since 2016, more than 80 countries have experienced Zika outbreaks.
Common symptoms include fever, headache, sore, red eyes, swollen joints, and joint and muscle pain.
Dengue fever is another viral infection transmitted by mosquitoes, traditionally confined to tropical or subtropical climates.
Up to 400 million people per year according to WHO estimates.
While most cases cause flu-like symptoms, severe infections can be fatal.
Dengue fever was called bone fracture in the 18th century because of the severe pain it can cause in the muscles and joints.