Russian Siberia has been rocked by an invasion of blood-sucking ticks that experts said included a new and deadly “mutant” variety.
The scale of the swarm left some hospitals – already stretched with rising coronavirus cases and deaths – without vaccines and medicine.
In the Krasnoyarsk region, there are 428 times more ticks than usual – sparking fears of Lyme disease and illnesses that cause brain inflammation.
Medics in the region reported some 8,215 tick bites including 2,125 cases that involved children.
It has left some hospitals unable to cope with the onslaught of the mutant ticks.
The suburbs of Krasnoyarsk city are infested with 214 ticks per square kilometre. Normally, the “safe” figure is only 0.5.
Almost 2% carry tick-borne viral encephalitis, which can lead to permanent brain damage, with a third capable of passing on tick-borne borreliosis – or Lyme disease, attacking the joints, heart, and nervous system, reports the region’s Epidemiology and Hygiene Centre.
Several Siberian regions have been hit by swarms of hybrid ticks, reported Zvezda, the Russian defence ministry’s newspaper.
“Mutant ticks are attacking – this is not a tabloid headline but a fact,” stated its report.
These combine the “worst qualities” of two common types of Russian tick – Ixodes persulcatus, the taiga tick, and the “malicious” Pavlovsky or Far Eastern tick.
They attack people on both long and short grass.
A “large number inter-species hybrids” which produce “fertile offspring” have invaded Novosibirsk and Tomsk regions, said Dr Nina Tikhunova, of the Institute of Chemical Biology and Fundamental Medicine, Novosibirsk.
This mutant “is capable of carrying infectious agents associated with both parent species”.
The resulting tick bites are “very unpleasant for people”, she said.
Novosibirsk has seen a 150% jump in people seeking medical help after suffering bites from “abnormally active” ticks which bit beneath the skin into blood vessels. Some, 22 people have been hospitalised suspected of encephalitis.
In the Sverdlovsk region in the Urals, 17,242 people have been bitten by ticks, among them 4,334 children. Here, 36% carried Lyme disease.
Maybe you can understand Russian? Than this video is good for you:
The rise in figures come despite Russians until recently being under lockdown over coronavirus.
Many cities say they have no stocks of immunoglobulin to treat sufferers or only enough for children. Khabarovsk region says it is has run out of immunoglobulin and encephalitis vaccine. New supplies are only expected in July, with people urged to stay home.