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  1. ITV Report

Rare disease that can be deadly for dogs 'will spread very quickly'

A fourth case of the Babesia disease has been identified in Essex. Credit: ITV News Anglia.

Television zoologist Chris Packham has warned a rare disease affecting dogs 'will spread very quickly' across the country - as a fourth case is confirmed in Essex.

The Babesia parasite can be fatal to pets and is thought to have been picked up in a field in Harlow.

Dogs in Essex are thought to be the first in the UK to have contracted the disease, which originates in eastern and southern Europe.

The Forest Veterinary Surgery in Harlow has been treating the animals.

All four cases are being linked to a field in Harlow. Credit: ITV News Anglia.

"This is the first outbreak in this country. It's a serious disease.

"It's a parasite that is transmitted by a tick, in the same way that malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes. The tick feeds on the dog carrying the disease and the disease travels into the dog. In the process of trying to kill the parasite, the dog destroys its own blood."

– Clive Swainsbury, vet.
A tick found in the field. Credit: ITV News Anglia.

Zoologist and television presented Chris Packham spent a day working alongside a scientist from the University of Bristol studying the ticks in the field in Harlow.

The tick itself is also relatively new to the UK but is now finding it easier to survive over here because of milder temperatures.

Chris Packham in Harlow. Credit: ITV News Anglia.

"Vets aren't use to looking for it but now they are going to have to start changing their practise and testing for it because it's likely, although we've only identified four cases from this one small patch, that this is just the tip of an iceberg.

"If these ticks and this pathogen are surviving here, it's likely that they are in many other parts of the country too or, if not, that they will spread very quickly."

– Chris Packham, zoologist and broadcaster.