Health threat to travellers from ticks at home and abroad

June 29, 2001

Ticks picked up in the UK may constitute a health risk because of their potential to carry infectious diseases, in addition to ticks and other parasites acquired overseas, conclude authors of a research letter in this week's issue of THE LANCET.

International tourism to tropical and sub-tropical areas, both to resource-poor and developed countries, has almost trebled within the past 20 years. John McGarry and colleagues from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, UK, examined the records of patients referred to their travel clinic over 7 years.

73 cases of arthropod infestation were identified, of which around two-thirds (46 cases) originated in the UK. Overall there were 27 ticks, 24 myiases (invasion of the skin by fly larvae), 15 ectoparasitic insects, and seven mite infestations. Ticks predominated in the UK (19 cases, 41%) whereas myiasis was more common in travellers returning from abroad (18 cases, 67%). Of the myiasis cases, only the invasive screwworm fly Cochliomyia hominivorax caused a serious infection, requiring surgery.

The investigators comment that although these infestations are unpleasant and sometimes very painful, ticks constitute the most serious problem, regardless of their origin. Hard ticks (Ixodidae) only cause mild irritation while attached, but they are important carriers of many diseases. Ticks are efficient vectors of over 100 viruses and numerous bacteria, protozoa, rickettsiae, and spirochaetes, including European tick-borne encephalitis, Russian spring-summer encephalitis, tick-borne typhus, and Lyme disease.

John McGarry comments: "The false perception that native tick infestations do not represent any potential threat may be widespread. With the relaxation of quarantine regulations for imported dogs, the potential for the introduction and transmission of new tick-borne diseases has increased. The various arthropod species recorded in this study suggest that however unpleasant the insect infestations, it is the ticks that are the most medically important, and both domestic and exotic infestations include species that can be vectors of serious and fatal disease."
Contact: Dr J W Mcgarry, Division of Parasite and Vector Biology, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Liverpool, L3 5QA, UK; T) +44 (0)151 708 9393 ext. 2149; F) +44 (0)151 709 3681; E)

Please mention The Lancet as the source of this material


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