Lyme disease was first identified as a separate condition in 1975 in Old Lyme, Connecticut. It can be quite a debilitating condition and something that we all should be aware of. It is the most common disease spread by ticks in the northern hemisphere with an estimated infection rate of 300,000 people in the United States each year and 65,000 people in Europe. The singer, Shania Twain has been infected with this which resulted in her absence from the music scene for quite some time. The ex-England rugby captain Matt Dawson has had to have multiple heart operations following the contraction of Lyme Disease after being bitten by a tick in a London park.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is an infection by a bacteria of the Borrelia type. As mentioned, it is spread by ticks which have become infected with the bacteria by feeding on the blood of small mammals. Because the ticks like to feed off deer it was thought that the infection came from them, however, this is not the case. Ticks can be found in parks, gardens, heathland and woodland with the highest concentration of tick population where there are deer and hence, why it was once felt that deer were the source of the bacteria.
Not all ticks carry the bacteria and a tick will have to be attached to you for 36 to 48 hours for the infection to take place. This means that you should check yourself and your children for these tiny creatures and remove them correctly (see below).
What are the symptoms?
If you are bitten by a tick and are infected with Lyme disease you might develop a red circular rash around the bite up to 30 days after being bitten. Not everyone will develop a rash and usually, 25 percent or more won’t.
Some people also have flu-like symptoms in the early stages, such as:
a high temperature, or feeling hot and shivery
muscle and joint pain
tiredness and loss of energy
Some people who are not treated for Lyme Disease can develop many months or years later swelling and joint pain and problems with nerves and heart. Others can develop long-term issues resulting in a condition such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome
Lyme Disease – Early Treatment
If you have any of these symptoms and know that you have been bitten by a tick seek medical assistance immediately and tell your doctor about the bite. If you have not noticed being bitten, and many people don’t, tell your doctor if you have been out in the countryside, woods, parks and so forth where you could have come into contact with ticks. A doctor will prescribe antibiotics for a 2 to 3-week course which you should fully complete, even if you start to feel better.
Avoiding Tick Bites
If you’re out walking in the woods or countryside avoid brushing against vegetation as much as you can. It’s best to stay on clearly defined paths away from long vegetation. Wear light coloured clothes to make it easier to spot ticks on them and brush off immediately. Wear trousers to keep your legs covered and the old trick of walkers having trousers tucked into boots or socks greatly decreases the chance of ticks working their way onto your skin. Of course, as mentioned earlier check yourself thoroughly after a walk. Ticks are most active from spring to autumn and this is the most likely time to be bitten and become infected. Use the insect repellent DEET to give the best protection to keep ticks off you.
How to remove a tick
If you find a tick attached to your skin, you can either use a tick removal tool or a pair of fine tweezers. Grab the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull slowly and gently upwards to avoid leaving any of the tick’s mouth parts in your skin. You can apply antiseptic to the area or wash with soap and water. Keep an eye on the area and if there is a rash or you become unwell seek medical advice and tell your doctor about the bite. Do remember though that the chance of that tick being infected with Lyme Disease is low and also if it was not attached to you for very long even lower, so don’t become too worried and live in fear of a reaction.
Enjoy the countryside
Lyme disease is obviously something to be avoided and in many areas popular with walkers you might see warnings that there are ticks. By following the advice and taking appropriate preventative measures you can greatly reduce the risk of infection. If you are bitten and become infected then early treatment is essential so don’t put off seeking advice. You might have to press your doctor to consider Lyme Disease. Some doctors in the past have not been aware of the disease as it does not always show up in early blood tests and can appear to be any one of a number of less serious conditions.
For more information about Lyme Disease and ticks here is a pdf for you to download.