Climate change is also shifting the geography of disease. A paper earlier this year warned there could be a “potentially devastating” surge in the number of novel pathogens jumping between mammals over the next 50 years. It predicted “a minimum of at least 15,000” new spillover events by 2070, if temperatures rise by 2C.
“The early 21st century has been a perfect storm for emerging infectious diseases, and everything is pointing towards the likelihood of more and more outbreaks,” said Prof Woolhouse. “All the drivers of outbreaks are getting worse, not better, over time.”
Some experts say the number of new diseases to have hit the UK in the past six months can also be linked to pandemic-related disruption, the easing of restrictions and a shift in migration patterns away from Europe post-Brexit.
Since leaving the European Union, non-EU immigration has boomed, with many more people coming from Asia and Africa.
“People going from this country to other countries and back is probably the biggest driver of disease importations,” said Prof Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia.
“The UK is also one of the world’s leading transportation hubs,” adds Dr Richard Hatchett, chief executive of Cepi (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations). “And we have recently seen a surge of global transportation following two years of relative inactivity, enabling infections to spread rapidly.”
In February, a baby died from Lassa fever in hospital in Bedfordshire, one of three people to contract the haemorrhagic virus while in West Africa. A month later, a woman with a recent travel history to Asia was diagnosed with Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, a related tick-borne virus with a fatality rate as high as 40 per cent.
The rapid worldwide spread of monkeypox – roughly 3,700 confirmed and suspected cases have now been reported outside endemic countries – is also linked to travel.