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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 August, 2003, 12:49 GMT 13:49 UK
Mosquito checks stepped up
Asian tiger mosquito
Asian tiger mosquitoes can spread potentially fatal diseases
Health chiefs are stepping up checks on mosquitoes and ticks living in and entering Britain.

Experts suspect that Asian Tiger mosquitoes have already entered Britain on container ships docking in ports.

These mosquitoes are known to carry a number of serious and potentially fatal diseases.

While there is no evidence to suggest they infected any individuals, their discovery has concerned health officials.

Airport checks

The Health Protection Agency is working with staff at Heathrow Airport to ensure containers and luggage from at risk countries are checked.

Asian tiger mosquitoes, which get their name from their bright white markings on a dark background, are normally found in southeast Asia, parts of Africa and Central and South America.

We need to know which ticks and mosquitoes are surviving here and where they are
Dr Pat Troop,
Health Protection Agency
However, there is concern that world climate change could see them arrive and survive in Britain.

Asian tiger mosquitoes breed much more easily than other types of mosquitoes.

Those recently discovered in Britain were found living in small pools of water in used motor vehicle tyres.

The concern is that these mosquitoes could have been carrying dengue fever or certain types of encephalitis virus.

Dengue fever can result in severe flu-like symptoms. One strain causes internal bleeding and can be fatal if not treated.

Encephalitis viruses attack the brain and can also be fatal.

The HPA is also trying to map other breeds of mosquitoes and ticks in Britain.

They believe this will help them to predict any future outbreaks of diseases, like malaria and Lyme disease.

Dr Pat Troop, chief executive of the Health Protection Agency, said: "We are monitoring for these ticks and mosquitoes.

"We need to know which ticks and mosquitoes are surviving here and where they are."

Chemical concerns

The HPA is also launching an investigation into chemicals found in the environment amid concerns about their impact on people's health.

In its five-year corporate plan, published on Tuesday, it said the review will look particularly at the impact of chemicals on children.

"They are especially vulnerable to infections, poisons and chemicals and physical hazards in air, water and soil," the report states.

"Their development, health and well-being could be threatened by unsafe food and chemicals in household products and consumer goods."

The document points out that an estimated 600 new chemicals enter the market each month, on top of the 11 million already known and 70,000 in regular use.

Studies have claimed that exposure to some chemicals can have serious effects on health, including the risk of birth defects and chronic diseases.

The HPA will also investigate public concern about the possible effects of long-term exposure to chemicals, such as those emitted from landfills, incinerators and industrial sites.

Dr Troop said: "We are not saying there is a problem. We are saying we are looking carefully to see if there is a problem or there isn't a problem.

"The public is concerned about many of these issues and it is important that we don't ignore it if there is a problem."

Malaria genomes cracked
02 Oct 02  |  Science/Nature
Malaria could be Europe-bound
12 Jun 00  |  Europe
Dengue fever breakthrough
30 Jul 99  |  Health

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