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Britain needs to ‘strengthen’ its preparations for the possibility of another pandemic labeled ‘Disease X’, experts say, after a string of infectious diseases has hit the UK over the past six months.
After traces of polio were found this week in sewage samples in parts of London for the first time in 40 years, a disease expert has said that after a series of ‘health events’ over the past six months, something ‘is likely’ going on. ‘ the horizon’.
The UK detected a strain of H5 bird flu in a human in January this year, in the south west of England, and three cases of lassa fever – one of which died from the disease in February.
Rodent-borne disease Lassa fever was brought into Britain for the first time since 2009 after a family returned from West Africa to their home in the east of England.
And in March, Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever was brought into the country after a woman returned to the UK from Central Asia.
Britain could soon be hit by an ‘impossible’ disease X according to experts, who warn that after a string of infectious diseases that have hit the UK over the past six months, a Black Death-scale outbreak could be just around the corner
The UK Health Security Agency said fever, a viral disease commonly transmitted by ticks and livestock in countries where the disease is endemic, has only been diagnosed three times in the UK since 2012.
The most recent addition to the range of infectious diseases coming to Britain is Monkeypox in May, and nearly 800 cases of the virus have been recorded since then.
Gay and bisexual men at ‘high risk’ of getting monkey pox will be offered an Imvanex vaccine — which is 85 percent effective — to protect against the infection, health chiefs announced today. Almost all infections have so far been reported in men who have sex with men.
Professor Paul Hunter of Medicine at the University of East Anglia told the Telegraph: “People going from this country to other countries and back are probably the biggest cause of disease imports.”
“We do have to pay attention, strengthen pandemic preparedness and maintain our surveillance systems, because in the big picture Covid was not as bad as it could have been.
“When it comes to illness, we are not an island and it would be a mistake to think of ourselves as such.”
In light of these recent outbreaks, Professor Mark Woolhouse of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh also told the paper: ‘There’s a name for what we’re seeing in the UK and elsewhere right now, it’s called chatter.
‘It’s a term anti-terrorist’ [units] to describe the small events that could mean something bigger on the horizon…infectious diseases work much the same.’
Last year, the WHO warned that the next pandemic could be “on the scale of the Black Death,” killing about 75 million people between 1346 and 1353.
The polio outbreak caused health chiefs to declare a ‘national incident’ and urge parents to ensure their children were up to date on their vaccinations.
All British children are said to have had the first of three polio shots as babies, but the London admission is lagging behind the rest of the country. The pandemic also caused a lull in the uptake of vaccinations.
Polio is spread through coughing and sneezing or through contact with objects contaminated with feces, causing permanent paralysis in about one in 100 cases. Children are at greater risk.
The UK Health Security Agency believes a traveler, likely from Pakistan, Afghanistan or Nigeria, who received the live oral polio vaccine traveled to the UK and ‘shed’ traces of the virus in their stool.
The virus was detected several times between February and May and has continued to mutate, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
Professor Woolhouse added: ‘The start of the 21st century has been a perfect storm for emerging infectious diseases, and everything points to the potential for more and more outbreaks.
“All causes of outbreaks get worse over time, not better.”
The NHS is launching a campaign to contain polio by contacting the parents of unvaccinated children after health leaders announced a national incident last night following the disease’s return for the first time in 40 years. file photo
And scientists would believe the next pandemic will be caused by “zoonotic” diseases that occur when infections from animals get to humans.
The factors behind the spread of new and existing viruses are likely due to expanding economies of previously undeveloped countries, population growth, increased wildlife trade and human displacement into jungles and forests.
Brexit has also led to the massive increase in non-EU immigration from Asian and African countries.
In January, Britain’s ‘patient zero’ caught the H5N1 virus after ‘very close and regular’ contact with a large number of infected birds they kept in and around their homes, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
It is the first-ever human case of H5N1 – which kills up to half the people it infects – recorded in the UK and fewer than 1,000 people have been diagnosed with the strain worldwide since its emergence in the late 1990s.
Lassa fever, which was seen in three people and one of whom died in February, is thought to cause no symptoms in 80 percent of patients and kill only one percent of those it infects.
Monkeypox is the most recent and real threat to the UK and dozens of other countries around the world since it was first spotted in May.
The US, Spain and Portugal have also been affected, and the World Health Organization said there is a ‘real’ threat that monkeypox could become endemic in Europe unless the current cluster is eradicated urgently.