Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. It is spread to humans from wildlife such as deer, mice, pheasants and blackbirds by ticks. The tick becomes infected by feeding on wildlife it then passes on the infection by feeding on humans. Lyme disease is the most common tick borne infectious disease in Europe.
Early symptoms may include fever, headache, fatigue and a circular rash around the area of the bite. Treatment involves a course of antibiotics.
If left untreated then months or even years later other symptoms may develop including muscle pain, joint pain, heart problems (due to inflammation of the heart muscle) and neurological symptoms (numbness of the limbs, paralysis of the facial muscles, impaired memory and difficulty concentrating)
Not all ticks are infected with Lyme disease but all ticks should be carefully removed as soon as possible. Do not squeeze the tick as this could cause it to regurgitate into the host and thus increase the risk of infection. Tick removers can be purchased from the vets and although meant for animals, work extremely effectively on people. Alternatively if the tick is too small for the tick remover it can be smothered using a blob of Vaseline, covered loosely with a plaster. The dead tick is then easily removed.
The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to be aware when walking in the countryside particularly in areas inhabited by deer and particularly in the late spring and early summer when the nymph stage of the tick is feeding. Ticks are very small and the bite is not painful. You may not immediately notice you have a tick attached to your skin.
- Keep to the footpaths avoiding long grass
- Wear long sleeved clothes and tuck trousers into socks
- Use a DEET insect repellent
- Inspect yourself and your children for ticks at the end of the day
- Make sure your pet does not bring ticks into your home