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UK faces mosquito-borne disease risk because of climate change

Rising temperatures could make UK home to mosquitoes carrying dengue fever by 2040s

The warning comes ahead of the UK Health Security Agency’s (UKHSA) report which shows that high emissions and temperatures could be rising by 4C by 2100. The report, involving 90 experts, warns of ‘substantial and growing’ evidence of the current effects of climate change on public health.

One major health concern is the UK becoming more suitable for invasive species such as the Asian tiger mosquito, also known as Aedes albopictus. It is known for its striped body and its potential to spread dengue fever, zika virus and chikungunya – diseases normally associated with the tropics. They tend to live in urban areas as opposed to wetlands and feed during the day, putting people at greater risk of being bitten.

‘Climate change is an important threat which undermines public health right across the globe, not only by increasing the mortality burden of extreme temperatures and weather effects, but through enhancing the spread of infectious disease and exacerbating the fragility of the global systems that our health depends upon,’ said UKHSA chief executive Professor Dame Jenny Harries.

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Dr Jolyon Medlock, entomologist at UKHSA recommended taking appropriate action to prevent mosquitoes from breeding. This would mean ‘making sure buckets are not collecting stagnant water in gardens, paddling pools being covered and any potential rain-collecting vessels being upturned,’ he said.  

The UKHSA already has a surveillance system in place to rapidly spot invasive mosquitoes, including a network of traps placed at UK borders that detect mosquito eggs.

However, experts urge for swift action to control rising green house emissions to avoid some of the worst consequences of mosquito-borne diseases. ‘Slower and reduced warming is likely to delay these risks by decades or beyond this century - but once these mosquitoes have arrived, their establishment is largely irreversible,’ the report says.