Travel Health Wednesday March 30, 2016

Climate change and mosquitoes in the UK

The UK doesn't suffer from malaria in the same way that hot and humid areas such as Africa and the Middle East do, but a report published in the Lancet suggests that by 2030, we could experience dengue fever carrying mosquitoes here.

What Was The Study?

The study was carried out by Public Health England researchers at Porton Down who carried out a literature review to track evidence of climate change in Europe and its effect on insects such as mosquitoes and ticks.

Why More Mozzies?

We already have 34 different species of mosquito in the UK. If our average temperature rises by two degrees, it could lead to an increase in the types of mosquito resident in the UK and the mosquito activity season could lengthen. Mosquitoes have the potential to carry serious diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and chikungunya.

Malaria symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Sweats and chills
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Muscle pains
  • Feeling unwell overall

Dengue Fever symptoms:

  • Severe headache
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Pain behind the eyes
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Swollen glands
  • A rash in children

Chikungunya is a viral disease similar to dengue fever. Symptoms are:

  • Fever severe joint and muscles pain
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • A rash

How To Deal with Mosquitos

Antimalarial medication should be taken if you're heading to an infected area. Medicines such as Doxycycline, Paludrine/Avloclor and Malarone can prevent the disease entering your bloodstream. These antimalarial tablets work by preventing the parasites ability to reproduce, allowing your body to destroy the infection. They must be taken in advance of travelling to infected areas.

Pregnant women should think seriously about visiting malarial areas as malaria can cause severe illness in the mother and the baby. Some antimalarial medications may not be suitable so it's important to speak to your doctor first. Epileptics and the immunocompromised should also seek advice as they are at risk of medicinal side effects.

You can protect yourself against mozzies by using Deet-based repellents that are the most effective, or eucalyptus, which has some repellent benefits. Wear clothing that's elasticated at the wrists and ankles, avoid dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active, and sleep under a mosquito net.

Are We Doomed?

Over the past decade, malaria has spread to European mainland Greece and Chikungunya to Italy and France, so it's not impossible they could reach the UK.

The review was scientific but it's still a predication. If temperatures do rise then it's possible more serious mosquito-borne diseases could arise the UK. Their eggs can remain dormant for 18 months before hatching into a suitable environment. If the temperature rises here, it may well create that suitable environment.

However, other factors would influence any potential malaria spread such as socioeconomic development, and building or land use.

What the study does show is that public health dangers could arise with climate change. Start listening for that unmistakable buzz and arm yourself with a shoe.


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