WHAT IS LYME DISEASE?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that can be spread to humans by infected ticks. It’s usually easier to treat if it is diagnosed early.
Early symptoms of Lyme disease in humans may include mild flu-like symptoms including:
- a high temperature, or feeling hot and shivery
- muscle and joint pain
- tiredness and loss of energy
Symptoms can sometimes be accompanied by a characteristic bulls-eye rash (called erythema migrans). The rash appears usually around 1 to 4 weeks after being bitten and is often described as looking like a bulls-eye on a dartboard. The affected area of skin will be red and the edges may feel slightly raised.
It is important to know, however, that not all cases of Lyme disease have this rash; in fact, 1 in 3 people do not report seeing a rash.
More serious symptoms may develop several weeks, months or even years later if Lyme disease is left untreated or is not treated early on.
You should see your GP promptly if you feel unwell with any of the symptoms described above after being bitten by a tick, or if you think you may have been bitten.
How is Lyme disease transmitted?
In nature, the bacteria that cause Lyme disease are carried in the blood of wild animals (hosts), primarily small mammals and birds. Ticks feeding on an infected animal will take in the bacteria, which remain in the tick for the rest of its life. When an infected tick bites and feeds on a human, the bacteria can be passed on via the ticks’ saliva.
It should be remembered that not all ticks will carry the bacterium which causes Lyme disease and not all bites from an infected tick will result in human Lyme disease.
Tick bites are not always painful. You may not notice a tick unless you see it on your skin.
Regularly check your skin and your children’s or pets’ skin after being outdoors.
Who is at risk of Lyme disease?
The highest rates occur in people aged between 24 and 64 years. However, people of all ages can be affected and both men and women are equally susceptible.
Cases are reported throughout the year but nearly half of the diagnosed cases occur in July, August, and September. Most of these cases were probably acquired in late spring (when tick activity is high) and early summer, allowing for the time period between being bitten, developing symptoms, and developing levels of antibodies high enough to give positive results in laboratory tests.
What areas are more prone to ticks?
Areas such as parks, gardens, woodlands, grasslands, and moorlands can all have high numbers of ticks. This is because these areas support a dense vegetation layer that is suitable for a range of tick hosts.
While we all want to enjoy being outside everyone, pets included need to be protected from tick bites.
How Can Lyme disease be prevented?
The best way to prevent Lyme Disease is to take practical steps to avoid tick bites.
- walk on clearly defined paths to avoid brushing against vegetation where ticks may be present
- wear light coloured clothing so that ticks crawling on clothing can be spotted and brushed off
- use an insect repellent that can repel ticks and prevent them from climbing onto clothing or attaching to the skin (always follow the manufacturer’s guidance)
- wear long trousers and long sleeved tops to reduce the direct exposure of ticks to your skin, making it more difficult for them to find a suitable area to attach
If you are bitten remove the tick as soon as possible ideally using a tick removal tool to ensure complete and safe removal.
There is currently no vaccine for Lyme disease, so improving tick awareness and adopting tick bite prevention behaviours are the best way to reduce the risk of developing Lyme disease.