Experts predict climate change could bring dengue fever to UK

Striped Asian tiger mosquitoes carry diseases normally associated with the tropics

A female Aedes albopictus mosquito, also known as the Asian tiger mosquito, feeding on a human host. The mosquitoes could carry dengue fever to England by the middle of this century. Getty Images
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UK government health experts have said climate change could bring Asian tiger mosquitoes carrying dengue fever to England by the middle of this century.

The biting insect has already spread across much of Europe due to warmer conditions, with it travelling alongside humans and through the transportation of goods.

With a distinctive striped body, the insect carries diseases normally associated with the tropics, such as dengue fever, Zika virus and chikungunya.

They tend to live in urban areas as opposed to wetlands and feed during the day, putting people at greater risk of being bitten.

In a report about the health effects of climate change, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) warned dengue fever could be transmitted in London by 2060 while the mosquito itself could become widely established across England in the 2040s.

Officials also said other infectious diseases spread through food or water could become more prevalent with the risk of more pandemics increasing.

Danger from extreme heat will also worsen as will flooding, which aside from the physical impacts of drowning or injury can damage people’s mental health.

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“Things that when I trained many years ago were called tropical diseases will actually become national domestic diseases,” UKHSA chief executive Professor Dame Jenny Harries said.

“In the summer of 2022, UK temperatures reached above 40C for the first time on record.

“We had nearly 3,000 excess deaths recorded across that extended heat period while many other countries have experienced bouts of intense and prolonged heat in recent months.

“Using a high emission scenario, UK health-related deaths are estimated to increase by over 100 per cent in the 2030s, over 500 per cent in the 2050s, and over 1,000 per cent by 2070.”

Food prices are also likely to become more volatile as much of what the UK imports is from regions sensitive to climate impacts such as drought.

Wildfires producing toxic smoke are also expected to occur more frequently during the hotter, drier summers.

The elderly, young children and those with pre-existing health conditions are most vulnerable to these threats.

The Earth has already warmed by 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels and the amount of carbon in the atmosphere means further warming is already locked in even if emissions start declining overnight.

This means some adaptation is necessary alongside the reduction in emissions and making improvements to housing, flood defences and extreme temperature warnings will help mitigate some of these growing dangers, the UKHSA said.

Jolyon Medlock, an entomologist at UKHSA, said monitoring at borders can help slow the spread of mosquitoes and that at home people can keep them away by covering any standing water or empty containers as the insects lay eggs in them.

“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, increasing the vulnerability of populations to existing geopolitical, energy and cost-of-living crises, Dame Jenny said.

Updated: December 11, 2023, 5:45 AM