But the ticks are also known to carry the deadly Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus (CCHF) – a deadly disease dubbed the “next Ebola.”
The horrific virus, which is also known as Congo Fever, results in death in around two fifths of all cases – and there are no proven vaccines available to prevent it.
Those unlucky enough to catch the disease often suffer from internal bleeding, before organ failure strikes down the sufferer.
Ebola is also categorized as a hemorrhagic fever virus, according to the World Health Organisation.
The tick was removed from a horse by a vet at The Barn Equine Surgery in Wimborne, Dorset, last September and sent to PHE for analysis.
Kayleigh Hansford, who led the agency’s tick surveillance team, writing in the journal Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases, said: “This is the first time Hyalomma rufipes has been reported in the United Kingdom.
“The lack of travel by the horse – or any in-contact horses – suggests that this could also be the first evidence of successful molting of a Hyalomma nymph in the UK.”
She said it is suspected that the tick hitched a ride on a migratory bird before landing in the UK.
Neither the infested horse, nor other horses in the stable had traveled anywhere and no further ticks were detected on any of the horses.
It is thought the tick probably traveled on a swallow because they tend to nest in the stables of horses and migrate from Africa to the UK for summer.
The worrying find could “present a threat to public health in the UK”, the PHE said.
It’s not known whether any more of the ticks have been found in Britain this year, but so far there have been six reported cases in Germany.
Experts in Munich believe the bugs have mutated to survive cold winters – and don’t believe they could have been brought to the country by birds.
Dr Ute Mackenstedt, a parasitologist at the University of Hohenheim, said: “If the development cycle is taken into account, this cannot be the case here, as the ticks would have had to have been introduced at a time where the migratory birds had not even arrived.
“According to the latest evidence, we have to presume that these animals are able to survive the winters in Germany.”
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