We hear it all the time on the news. Some far-off country has had a sudden outbreak of a deadly disease, and it seems that bothersome, ever-present pest insects are the ones spreading it around. Most of us will take a moment to think, “What a shame,” then get back to our day, thanking our lucky stars that we don’t have to deal with that sort of thing in the UK.
The reality is, whilst we’re rarely exposed to some of the more notorious bloodborne diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, or indeed those caused by especially low levels of sanitation and water purity, there are many diseases that we can contract from pest insects right here at home.
Do We Need to Worry About Mosquitoes in the UK?
Mosquito numbers are on the up in the UK, partly due to rising average temperatures and an increase in foreign travel. Despite this, instances of conditions such as malaria, dengue, West Nile virus and yellow fever remain very low and those that are reported tend to have been contracted abroad.
Of the more than 3,500 mosquito species we know of, just 34 are native to the UK, though these will rarely carry diseases. A combination of light rainfall and hot weather can provide ideal breeding conditions, which means you’re most likely to hear their distinctive high-pitched whine or receive a bite during the summer months. This is particularly true near bodies of still water like ponds, marshes and water butts.
Disease-Carrying Pest Insects in the UK
The main concerns in the UK are fleas, ticks, houseflies and cockroaches.
Rat fleas are infamous for having spread the virulent strain of the bubonic plague that wiped out an estimated 40% of the UK population in the 14th century. There were several plague outbreaks that were classed as epidemics over a three hundred-year period, the most famous of which being “The Black Death”. Thankfully though, there hasn’t been a case of the plague in Britain for a century.
The concerns with fleas in this day and age are Typhus and “Cat Scratch Fever” (Bartonellosis) so named because it is caused by fleas who infect felines who can then pass it to you through a scratch, bite, or lick near an open wound. Typhus can also be carried by ticks and will present with a fever, rash, abdominal pain and aching joints.
Neither is deadly and both tend to be uncommon, particularly in the UK, so you shouldn’t worry too much about cuddling up with Felix or Mittens.
In the elderly or immunosuppressed individuals, babesiosis can be deadly without quick medical intervention. The most distinctive symptom is blood in the urine, which is where Red Water Fever, a strain of babesiosis which affects cattle, gets its name.
Lyme disease affects as many as 3000 people in the UK every year, with an estimated 15% of cases occurring after becoming infected whilst abroad. It can be identified in the early stages by a red or pink rash shaped like a “bull’s-eye,” with a raised centre and a large ring around it.
A third of people will not experience this symptom, so it’s not possible to immediately discount Lyme disease if the other flu-like symptoms are present. If you know you’ve been bitten by a tick and are feeling at all unwell, it’s highly recommended that you seek medical advice, as a strong round of antibiotics are required to kill off the disease.
Houseflies and Cockroaches
Unlike fleas and ticks, you don’t need to worry about being bitten, scratched or stung by these pest insects. They infect humans by dragging themselves through filthy environments, picking up bacteria and depositing it onto your food. In this way, they can be vehicles for a range of diseases including salmonella, typhoid, gastroenteritis, dysentery and even tuberculosis.
With the exception of tuberculosis, which is identified by a persistent hacking cough, all of these diseases present with some variation of intense stomach cramps, vomiting and often diarrhoea. Both salmonella and gastroenteritis are extremely common in the UK and most people are likely to suffer from one or both on occasion throughout their lives.
What to do if You Have an Infestation of Disease-Carrying Pest Insects
The above list is by no means exhaustive. Pest insects can carry all manner of rare and unpleasant diseases, so it’s essential that you avoid sharing your home or workplace with them.
If you discover an infestation, the best way to ensure that it’s eradicated is by contacting an experienced pest control specialist. At Safeguard we are highly experienced in dealing with pest insects. Many over-the-counter solutions are unable to kill off an entire infestation and in some cases, may have no effect at all.
If you’re at all concerned about pest insects, or have any questions, please get in contact with us today either by phone at 0800 328 4931 or through our online form.