Parasite found in UK for first time presents new risk to humans

Sheep in a field

A new study has found that a tick-borne parasite that causes malaria-like disease is present in the UK.

This is the first time that the parasite, Babesia venatorum, has been found in the UK, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that it represents a new risk to humans working, living or hiking in areas with infected ticks and livestock.

According to the study, which was published in CDC’s Emerging Infectious Diseases journal, B. venatorum is an increasingly prominent zoonotic parasite that predominantly infects wild deer. However, scientists have found the parasite in UK livestock, including sheep, and said that it is recognised as an emerging infection in humans.

These findings signify a change in the landscape of tick-borne pathogens in the UK, and the underlying causes for this need to be investigated

The researchers involved in the study, who are based at the University of Glasgow in the UK, said that they do not know how the parasite entered the county, but they have confirmed that it is present in the UK sheep population.

So, should we be worried? In short – yes, as the identification of this parasite in livestock raises concerns for public health and farming policy in Europe.

"Although we believe the threat to humans to be low, nevertheless local health and veterinary professionals will need to be aware of the disease if the health risk from tick-borne disease in the UK is to be fully understood,” said Dr Willie Weir, Senior University Clinician in veterinary pathology. “Our findings follow the recent report of the detection of tick-borne encephalitis virus in the UK. Taken together, these findings signify a change in the landscape of tick-borne pathogens in the UK, and the underlying causes for this need to be investigated.”