Rift Valley Fever (RVF) is a viral disease that infects both humans and animals, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
It’s regarded as a ‘priority disease’ for the WHO, given its potential to cause a public health emergency.
Since the year 2000, about 1,000 people have died of the virus. All of the reported deaths were in Africa.
But, the UK could be at risk of Rift Valley Fever, according to Dr Gianni Lo Iacono, from the University of Surrey.
As the climate changes around the world, the virus could crop up in new areas, he said.
“[It’s] is a very important point,” Lo Iacono told Express.co.uk. “We definitely need to be aware of the risk, especially because of the expected change in the climate.
“The problem should not be underestimated, and Rift Valley Fever is on the list of priority diseases for the WHO given its potential to cause a public health emergency, and the absence of efficacious drugs and/or vaccines.
“The main lesson is to remain vigilant.”
The Zika virus is a good example of how climate change can spread diseases to new parts of the world, said Lo Iacano.
“[Zika] is also spread by insects and was considered a minor pathogen when first identified in Uganda in 1947,” he said.
“The first large outbreak of disease caused by Zika infection was reported from the Island of Yap in 2007.
“There are currently several countries worldwide experiencing Zika virus outbreaks.”
But, if RVF were to reach the UK, it’s unlikely to be high risk, added Lo Iacono.
Any country that has strong measures to prevent a spread wouldn’t be high risk, he said. That could include mosquito nets to protect against the virus spreading from mosquito bites.
Still, it’s crucial to be aware of the signs and symptoms of RVF, he added.
During its early stages, the virus’ symptoms are a flu-like fever, headaches, and a sensitivity to light.
Some patients may develop a stiff neck or lose their appetite, said the WHO.
Most human cases are mild, and signs of the virus will only last for up to a week. But, on rare occasions, it can develop into a severe infection.
Severe RVF symptoms include permanent loss of vision, hallucinations, coma, vomiting blood and a purpuric rash.
Patients developing a haemorrhagic fever form of RVF – one of the most serious forms of the infection – leads to death in half of the total cases.
Death usually occurs between three and six days after symptoms begin, added the WHO.