Three tropical diseases are set to take off in Britain midway through this century because of climate change, health chiefs have warned.
Asian tiger mosquitoes, which spread dengue, zika and chikungunya, could become established in England in the mid-2040s.
The viruses it transmits can cause mild illness, triggering headaches, muscle aches and a rash. However, in severe cases, they can be fatal or cause complications in unborn babies.
The biting insect, which feeds through the day, has already spread across much of Europe in recent years — including in France, Spain and Italy — as warmer conditions have helped it travel alongside humans or through the transportation of goods.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) warned that the mosquito itself could become widely established across England by 2040, with dengue cases spreading in London by 2060.
Three tropical diseases are set to take off in Britain this century because of climate change , health chiefs have warned. Dengue, zika and chikungunya can cause mild illness, triggering headaches, muscle aches and a rash
The biting insect, which feeds through the day, has already spread across much of Europe in recent years — including in France , Spain and Italy — as warmer conditions have helped it travel alongside humans or through the transportation of goods
Asian tiger mosquitoes (pictured), which spread dengue, zika and chikungunya, could become established in England by mid-century
Professor Dame Jenny Harries, the UKHSA’s chief executive, said: ‘Things that when I trained many years ago were called tropical diseases will actually become national domestic diseases.’
In a report about the health effects of climate change, the UKHSA noted that all three viruses are epidemic in parts of the world, including Africa and Asia.
But dengue, zika and chikungunya have also caused large outbreaks in the US over the last decade, while there has been a handful of cases in European nations.
Outbreaks in Europe have tended to involve a handful of human cases. But some have sickened thousands.
‘Whilst there is currently no local transmission of pathogens between humans and mosquitoes in the UK, climate-driven establishment of non-native mosquitoes could result in local disease transmission occurring in future,’ the UKHSA warned.
Dengue has caused outbreaks of illness throughout history, with the first known to have occurred in 1635 in the West Indies. It hit Europe in 2010.
Latest data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) shows 71 cases of locally-acquired dengue were reported in 2022, with 65 in France and six in Spain. The toll is equivalent to the total reported in the decade prior.
However, it is thought that the true toll is underestimated because not all cases are tested.
It is the most rapidly spreading mosquito-borne disease globally. Studies show it fares best when temperatures are between 18.5C and 33C and there is between, 6,000mm and 18,000mm of rain per year.
This has put the UK at low risk, with annual average temperatures of 9.4C and 800mm to 1,400mm of rainfall, the UKHSA said.
Cases already detected in the UK were linked with travel.
However, studies have shown that there is ‘potential for the UK climate to become suitable for dengue in future’.
Some people who are infected with dengue won’t develop symptoms. But for those who do, they usually start four to 10 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.
They include a fever, severe headache, pain behind the eyes, muscle and join pain, feeling and being sick and a blotchy rash that is made up of raised spots.
Most people recover without treatment within days.
However, some develop a severe form of the disease. This can trigger tummy pain, repeated vomiting, fast breathing, bleeding gums or nose and extreme tiredness.
While there is no treatment, sufferers are kept in hospital until they recover. Resting, drinking plenty of fluids and taking paracetamol are recommended.
UKHSA chiefs have also warned that zika could spread in the UK.
Scientists first identified the virus among monkeys in then Ugandan forest in 1947. Sporadic outbreaks have occurred since 1950 in parts of Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands.
Europe saw its first zika case in 2019 after a person in France became sickened.
Most people who contract zika don’t develop any symptoms.
Those who do get unwell usually suffer from a high temperature, headache, sore eyes, swollen joints and a rash and itchy skin that gets better within a week.
However, the virus can cause complications for pregnant women. It interferes with the development of a baby’s brain and can cause it to be born with an unusually small head.
Chikungunya is the other mosquito-borne infection health bosses are worried about.
It was first spotted in Tanzania in the 1950s and has since been identified in more than 60 countries in Asia, Africa and South America.
Transmission in Europe was first reported in Italy in 2007, when around 200 human cases were spotted. A later 2017 outbreak hit 400 people in France.
Research suggests average temperatures need to hit 20C for chikungunya transmission and that parts of the UK could log this for months at a time from 2040.
The illness causes similar symptoms to dengue, including a fever, severe joint pain, muscle aches, a sore head, nausea, fatigue and a rash.
However, severe illness is rare.