GOVERNMENTS and individuals need to be alert to environmental changes that could help spread diseases transmitted by insects, a Durham University scientist has said.

Professor Steve Lindsay was commenting on a statement from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that 40 per cent of the world’s population is now at risk from diseases such as malaria, dengue, Lyme disease and yellow fever.

Prof Lindsay, who works with Roll Back Malaria and WHO, said travellers from the UK to the tropics and some European countries could be at risk from these often life-threatening diseases.

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He said the risk of these diseases was continually changing - whilst malaria is declining in Africa and many parts of the world, dengue, a disease that causes severe fever and sometimes death, is on the rise in tropical towns and cities.

In Europe, the Asian Tiger mosquito has spread to Italy causing an outbreak of Chikungunya, a disease that is seriously debilitating, but doesn’t kill.

The spread of the Asian Tiger mosquito could potentially pose problems for countries such as Spain, France and possibly the UK if environmental conditions continued to change to provide a sustainable environment for the mosquito to thrive in these countries, Professor Lindsay added.

Prof Lindsay, in Durham University’s School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, said: “Hundreds of millions of people are at risk from diseases such as malaria and dengue, along with other diseases which can cause a huge impediment to development or in some cases, death.

Prof Lindsay’s main research interest is in developing tools for malaria control, such as insecticide treated bed nets, larval control with microbials and better housing. He is currently helping the WHO, with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to develop new approaches to the control of vector-borne diseases.