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Bird migration could be causing the spread of Crimean-Congo Haemorrhagic Fever, a study has indicated.
The research, which is being published in Emerging Infectious Diseases – the journal of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – was undertaken by international healthcare experts at Uppsala University Hospital and Uppsala University in collaboration with specialists from the Swedish Institute for Communicable Disease Control and the universities in Kalmar and Linkoping.
It revealed the haemorrhagic fever that is prevalent in the Balkans, Asia and Africa and that is spreading across Europe could be becoming more commonplace because of the ticks carried by migrating birds.
Scientists captured 14,824 birds in total over the springs of 2009 and 2010, picking up animals from Greece and Italy as they travelled between Europe and Africa.
This enabled investigators to gather 747 ticks, which were analysed for traces of the virus.
Researchers found that the woodchat shrike carried infected Hyalomma ticks and while this parasite prefers to live in warmer climates and cannot thrive in northern Europe, rising temperatures and migratory birds could therefore be helping the creature to spread across the globe.
Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever was first characterised in 1944, when it was noticed in the Crimea.
As well as humans, the illness can affect a number of domesticated and wild animals, including goats, sheep, cattle and hares.
It typically causes flu-like symptoms, such as high fever, aches and pains, headache and vomiting, but can develop into a serious ailment with a mortality rate of 30 per cent.
"This is the first time ticks infected with this virus have been found on migratory birds. This provides us with an entirely new explanation of how this disease – as well as other tick-borne diseases – has spread to new areas, where new mammal populations can be infected by the infected ticks," study author Erik Salaneck said.
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