A potentially deadly tick-borne parasite has been found in the UK for the first time.
The organism identified in sheep in the north-east of Scotland causes babesiosis, an animal disease recognised as an emerging infection in people.
It has been recorded extensively in China and also in Europe, with two confirmed human infections in Italy over the last two decades, but has never previously appeared in the UK.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said infected people may get symptoms such as flu and jaundice, but severe cases can lead to death.
A study by Glasgow University scientists reports the organism has now been identified in sheep in the north-east of Scotland.
Willie Weir, senior university clinician, said: “The presence of B. venatorum in the UK represents a new risk to humans working, living, or hiking in areas with infected ticks and livestock, particularly sheep.
“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.
“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.”
Scientists collected blood from sheep, cattle and deer in the north-east of Scotland in areas where tick-borne diseases have previously been detected.
DNA from the parasite was detected in the blood of a large number of sheep, which were not showing any signs of disease, making them carrier animals.
Researchers believe B. venatorum may have been carried to the UK by migratory birds from Scandinavia.
Identification of this parasite in the UK raises concerns for European public health and farming policy, according to the study’s authors.
The paper is published in the December edition of Emerging Infectious Disease.