A tick-borne virus that can cause meningitis has been detected in several areas in England, according to a new risk assessment.

There have been three cases of tick-borne encephalitis (TBEV) in England since 2019 – with the first confirmed case discovered in the Yorkshire area last year.

The virus has also been detected in the Hampshire/Dorset and Norfolk areas, but may also be present in other parts of the country, the risk assessment published by a joint UKHSA and DEFRA committee said.

The report was based on both human cases and the detection of the virus in ticks.

TBEV is common in many parts of the world, including many European countries.

It can cause a range of diseases, from completely asymptomatic infection to mild flu-like illness, to severe infection in the central nervous system such as meningitis or encephalitis.

Symptoms of encephalitis are similar to other causes of meningitis, and can include a high fever with headache, neck stiffness, confusion or reduced consciousness.

Anyone who experiences such symptoms or feels generally unwell after a tick bite should seek GP advice.

While the risk to the general public remains very low from TBEV, the UKHSA has recommended changes to testing in hospitals so that any further cases can be detected promptly.

Ticks can carry other diseases including Lyme disease – a bacterial infection which can be treated with antibiotics.

Dr Meera Chand, deputy director at the UKHSA, said: “Our surveillance suggests that tick-borne encephalitis virus is very uncommon in the UK and that the risk to the general population is very low.
“Ticks also carry various other infections, including Lyme disease, so take steps to reduce your chances of being bitten when outdoors in areas where ticks thrive, such as moorlands and woodlands, and remember to check for ticks and remove them promptly.”

The UKHSA added that investigations into why the virus has been discovered in ticks more frequently in recent years are under way.

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