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Ticks carrying virus which can affect the brain found in Norfolk woodland

A virus which can affect the brain has been found in ticks in the UK for the first time – including a woodland area in Norfolk.

Public Health England said surveillance has detected tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) in a small number of ticks in two parts of England, in Thetford Forest and an area on the border between Hampshire and Dorset.

The risk to the general population, however, is currently assessed as very low.

Thetford Forest
Thetford Forest

The agency said tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) is an infection spread by tick bites, but most people who catch TBE will not have any symptoms.

However, it can cause flu-like symptoms, and in a small number of cases can progress to more serious disease involving the central nervous system.

Public Health England said further work is under way to identify the distribution of TBEV-infected tick populations.

Thetford Forest
Thetford Forest

Dr Nick Phin, deputy director of National Infections Service at Public Health England, said: "Tick-borne encephalitis virus, which is endemic in many European countries, has been found for the first time in a very small number of ticks in two locations in England.

"These are early research finding and indicate the need for further work, however, the risk to the general public is currently assessed to be very low.

"Ticks carry a number of infections including Lyme disease, so 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 found throughout the year – but are most active between spring and autumn.

A tick on human skin.(20392523)
A tick on human skin.(20392523)

The NHS has the following advice to reduce the risk of being bitten by ticks:

  • cover your skin while walking outdoors and tuck your trousers into your socks
  • use insect repellent on your clothes and skin – products containing DEET are best
  • stick to paths whenever possible
  • wear light-coloured clothing so ticks are easier to spot and brush off

Contact your GP or call 111 if you begin to feel unwell with flu-like symptoms following a tick bite.

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