Will we see malaria in Britain?


There’s an increasing risk of tropical diseases such as West Nile virus and malaria in Britain thanks to the growing popularity of water butts. As climate change causes warmer weather, many green-fingered Britons are installing water vessels in their gardens. These collect what is generally between 1.8 and 3.5 tablespoons of rainwater, which plants much prefer to tapwater, is free and was unaffected by the hosepipe ban of 2012. Thus has the number of mosquitoes in the country risen dramatically.

Water butts are more common in urban areas, which has the negative consequence of bringing mosquitoes into closer contact with people, raising the prospect of malaria in Britain. Water butts were spoken of by a recent study by the University of Reading that was published in Plos One, a peer-reviewed scientific journal. The report explained that water butts collect not only rain but also vegetation and animal detritus, supplying both an abode and a food resource for mosquito larvae.

Mosquitoes in Britain don’t carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans but the report detailed how a burgeoning number of insects in urban areas increases the danger of an outbreak of the less dangerous West Nile virus or malaria in Britain. The an. plumbeus mosquito has changed from being mostly rural to ever-more urban. The report mentioned that an. plumbeus became vastly more prevalent in Britain between 2012 and 2013. There is also an urban heat island effect, which has seen temperatures in British cities rise by as much as 48°F.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that mosquitoes carrying the malaria parasite are three times more attracted to human body odour than insects that are uninfected. A survey in Britain found that two-and-a-half times more mosquito bites were reported from 2001 to 2011 than from 1986 to 1996.

Changes in temperature result in changes in mosquito behaviour, and diseases have emerged elsewhere in Europe, particularly in the south: the Asian tiger mosquito transmitted chikungunya fever to scores of people in northern Italy, of whom one died, and has been detected in a dozen other European countries, including Germany and the Netherlands. The Italian outbreak originated from an Italian who had returned from India in 2007, and there have been hundreds of cases since. Mosquitoes gave the disease to one third of the population of the French island of La Reunion in a few weeks. A study by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) based at Porton Down in Wiltshire discovered that “widespread establishment” of this mosquito in England and Wales was a distinct possibility.

An. plumbeus bites humans and can transmit malaria. Dr Amanda Callaghan, one of the authors of the report, warned that if someone returned from holiday with malaria, as almost 2,000 people do every year, and they were bitten by a mosquito, the disease could be passed on to somebody else. This would be the first case of secondary malaria in Britain since the 1950s.

About the Author Timothy Chilman

Timothy Chilman used to work in IT. Once, in Sydney, he was turned down for a job because he was “too flamboyant” (“Someone who wears green tartan suspenders to a job interview probably isn’t going to fit in here”). Timothy then became an English teacher. University students in Bangkok complained that he was “too enthusiastic” and company students in Prague complained that he was “too theatrical.”

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