As a travel nurse based in London, I was concerned to hear the recent warning from health officials about the spread of tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) virus in several parts of the country. The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has confirmed three cases of TBE virus in patients in Yorkshire, Norfolk, and on the border of Hampshire and Dorset. Further tests on ticks across the country have found that the disease, which was commonly found in parts of Europe and Asia until now, is now present in the UK. The experts have warned that it is unlikely that TBE virus will disappear, so it’s essential to establish a surveillance program.
Public health officials say the risk is low, but it’s essential for walkers to take precautions and seek medical help if they fall ill after being bitten, especially if by a tick.
As a clinic that specialises in travel, we are used to urging everyone to take precautions to protect themselves from tick bites anyway, but this news reinforces the importance of doing this at home as well as when travelling abroad. It is essential to cover your ankles and legs, apply insect repellent, and check clothes and your body for ticks, particularly when visiting areas with long grass such as woods, moorlands, and parks.
In most cases the TBE virus typically causes mild flu-like symptoms, but it can also lead to severe infection in the central nervous system resulting in meningitis or encephalitis a high fever with headache, neck stiffness, confusion, or reduced consciousness, and long-term impairment.
As a travel nurse, I think it is really important to educate people about the symptoms of TBE to encourage them to seek medical help immediately if they experience any of these symptoms, but also to emphasise the fact that infections are preventable.
Ticks are becoming more common in parts of the UK, mainly due to increasing deer numbers. They live in undergrowth and latch on to humans when they walk through long grass. It is thought infected ticks may have arrived in the UK via migrating birds. Scientists had suspected the virus had arrived in the UK in 2019, following a couple of cases, but complexities involved in testing meant these could not be confirmed.
It’s crucial to emphasise the significance of vaccination for individuals who are considered of a higher risk. You are much more likely to catch TBE if you work outdoors or if you enjoy outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, dog-walking, countryside rambling and even jogging. Children playing outside may be especially vulnerable.
Vaccines can provide protection, and as there is currently no known cure for tick-borne encephalitis virus, those individuals who would be considered at higher risk are advised to be vaccinated as a precaution.
It’s worth noting that a vaccine is used routinely in areas of high incidence in Europe, and its advisable to consider vaccination for individuals with outdoor occupations in regions where the virus is prevalent.
For the general public the risk of contracting TBE is relatively low. Therefore, it’s essential to educate people about TBE and encourage them to take precautions to protect themselves from tick bites, particularly when travelling to areas where the virus is found.
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