Walkers warned to be ‘tick aware’ after brain disease found in UK for first time

Those visiting woodlands, moorlands and parks have been warned to be vigilant following news of an infectious brain disease spreading to England.

Public Health England (PHE) has confirmed cases of tick-borne encephalitis virus in ticks from Thetford Forest and an area on the Hampshire-Dorset border.

The infectious disease is spread to people by tick bites. It is already circulating in mainland Europe and Scandinavia, as well as Asia.

Most people who catch the virus will little or no symptoms, but the disease can progress to affect the brain and central nervous system and can sometimes be fatal.

PHE says the risk to people is still ‘very low’ and it is monitoring the situation to identify how common the infected ticks may be.

‘These are early research findings and indicate the need for further work,’ said PHE’s Dr Nick Phin. ‘However, the risk to the general public is currently assessed to be very low.

‘We are reminding people to be “tick aware” and take tick precautions, particularly when visiting or working in areas with long grass such as woodlands, moorlands and parks.’

Ticks are becoming more common in the UK, mainly due to increasing deer numbers. Ticks can be found on cats, dogs and foxes.

Ticks: How to avoid them and what to do if you are bitten

  • Cover your skin, tuck your trousers into your socks, use insect repellent and stick to paths to avoid coming into contact with ticks.
  • Those bitten by a tick are advised to remove it using a tick removal tool or tweezers before washing the area with soap and water or an antiseptic wipe.
  • You should visit the doctor if you think you may have been bitten by a tick and develop flu-like symptoms or a circular red rash.