A disease that is spread to humans by ticks and can harm the brain has been found in insects in the UK.
Public Health England (PHE) has confirmed the presence of the tick-borne encephalitis virus in Thetford Forest and on the Hampshire-Dorset border.
The risk of infection is thought to be low but it is being investigated how common the infected ticks are.
Ticks are becoming more and more common in the UK because of the growing number of deer on which the ticks can live.
The tiny, spider-like insects can also live on other animals such as dogs or be found in undergrowth in areas such as fields or woods.
While ticks carry Lyme disease as well as the encephalitis virus, being bitten by one does not necessarily mean you will become ill.
The virus is already present in some parts of Europe and Asia and is thought to have been spread to the UK via migratory birds.
Most people who catch the virus will usually have mild flu-like symptoms but it can sometimes impact the brain and nervous system and become fatal.
Dr Nick Phin of PHE said, “These are early research findings and indicate the need for further work. However, the risk to the general public is currently assessed to be very low.
“We are reminding people to be ‘tick aware’ and take tick precautions, particularly when visiting or working in areas with long grass such as woodlands, moorlands and parks.”
In order to avoid a tick bite tuck your trousers into your socks when walking through grassy areas to cover any exposed skin and stick to routes with paths. You can also use insect repellent.
If you are bitten by a tick, remove the insect from your skin with tweezers and wash the bite with antiseptic.
If you have been bitten over the past month and have developed flu-like symptoms or a red rash, you should visit your GP.