HL Deb 02 March 1987 vol 485 cc434-5

2.40 p.m.

Viscount Torrington

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have received any definitive evidence, either negative or positive, whether the AIDS virus is being transmitted by blood sucking insects such as mosquitoes.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, we are not aware of any evidence to suggest that insects have ever transmitted the virus. Your Lordships may be interested to know that I opened a scientific conference on AIDS last Friday. During that conference, one of the scientists said that efforts had been made to infect seven different types of mosquitoes with the AIDS virus and that none of those attempts had been successful.

Viscount Torrington

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that robust but not totally definitive reply, but would she agree that there is at least some similarity of function between a mosquito's proboscis and a shared hypodermic syringe? Does the Minister consider that this might, in some small part, account for the considerable spread of this disease in densely populated tropical parts of Africa?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am advised that there are several reasons why it is not thought that mosquitoes would transmit AIDS. First, only a proportion of the blood cells of an infected person contain the virus. It is therefore unlikely that the tiny quantity of blood sucked up by a mosquito would contain the virus in any quantity. Secondly, there is no evidence that the virus can multiply in mosquitoes. Finally, mosquitoes and other blood-sucking insects bite in order to suck blood from people and animals, and not to inject blood into them.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether we are safe from vampire bats?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, vampire bats and other bats can be infected by the rabies virus and can thus transmit that virus. However, bats cannot be infected with the human AIDS virus and it is therefore highly unlikely that blood sucking bats could transmit the virus from man to man. There is no evidence that this has ever happened.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, while expressing great sympathy for the mosquitoes which have suffered as a result of these experiments, would it not be appropriate for this House to express thanks to the BBC and Independent Television for their significant series of programmes in the past few days which were highly constructive and well aimed at those for whom the disease is particularly a problem?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, for his last remarks. I know that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State shares his view and that my colleagues and I feel exactly the same. We are very grateful to the BBC and Independent Television for the part that they have played.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, now that the AIDS virus has been found in cats in the United States of America, is there any possibility that fleas could transmit the virus?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I have replies to questions on bed bugs and monkeys but I regret that I do not have fleas. Well, your Lordships will know what I mean, and I think I have said enough!