People are being urged to be on alert for tick bites, following the diagnosis for the first time in England of a rare illness.
Public Health England (PHE) says the risk to the public is “very low”, but it’s important to be “tick aware” when enjoying green spaces this summer.
Babesiosis is caused by a parasite which infects red blood cells.
A second “probable” case of another rare infection spread by infected ticks has also been diagnosed.
Tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBE) is already circulating in mainland Europe and Scandinavia, as well as Asia. It reached the UK last year.
Dr Katherine Russell of PHE said cases of babesiosis and TBE in England are rare, and the risk of being infected remains “very low”.
“Lyme disease remains the most common tick-borne infection in England,” she said.,
“Ticks are most active between spring and autumn, so it is sensible to take some precautions to avoid being bitten when enjoying the outdoors. Seek medical advice if you start to feel unwell after a tick bite.”
How do you avoid tick bites?
PHE says you should follow these guidelines:
- Keep to footpaths and avoid long grass when out walking
- Wear appropriate clothing such as a long-sleeved shirt, and trousers tucked into your socks, to make it less likely that a tick will bite and attach
- Consider the use of repellents containing DEET
- Make it a habit to carry out a tick check regularly when you’re outdoors and when you get home
- If you have been bitten by a tick, it should be removed as soon as possible, using fine-tipped tweezers or a tick removal tool
- Contact your GP promptly if you begin to feel unwell, remembering to tell them you were bitten by a tick or recently spent time outdoors.
How rare is babesiosis?
PHE say they tested hundreds of ticks at sites in Devon close to where the person with babesiosis lives, but all had tested negative.
And tests on blood samples taken from deer from Hampshire in areas close to where the person with TBE lives, had also tested negative.
Both patients are being treated in hospital.
According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, babesiosis is transmitted mainly by ticks which become infected by feeding on infected cattle, roe deer and rodents.
There have been 39 known human cases on the European continent. Outside Europe, human babesiosis occurs mainly in the US.
What are the symptoms?
Most people with babesiosis will have either no symptoms or mild symptoms of infection. However, people with weakened immune systems can become very ill, complaining of flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle ache, fatigue and jaundice.
Around two-thirds of people with TBE infections will have no symptoms. For those who do, flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache and fatigue can lead to meningitis, encephalitis and paralysis.
PHE says if you develop flu-like symptoms after being bitten by a tick, you should visit your GP, or go to hospital if you:
- Get a stiff neck and a severe headache
- Get a pain when looking at bright lights
- Have a change in behaviour – such as sudden confusion
- Develop weakness or loss of movement in part of the body.