What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that can caught from infected ticks of the Ixodes genus. Usually found in woodland and heath areas, ticks feed on the blood of birds and mammals, including humans. Infection is not instant as the tick may need to be attached for between 36 & 48 hours. The is no evidence to suggest that the disease can be transmitted between humans or via food.
Symptoms can include the loss of the ability to move one or both sides of the face, severe headaches, joint pains, neck stiffness, and palpitations of the heart.
How can you identify Lyme Disease
In most cases a sign of infection is an expanding area of redness on the skin, called a erythema migrans. This begins at the site of the bite and starts after about a week. It is not unusual for there to be no pain or itching associated with the rash. However, up to 50% of all people infected do not develop a rash, though they may suffer from a fever, headache or feel tired.
If detected early enough lyme disease can often be treated effectively. However, if diagnosis is missed or the start of treatment delayed, there is a risk of developing very severe and long-lasting complications.
Where am I most at risk of Lyme Disease?
You are most at risk of catching Lyme disease if you spend time in woodland or heath areas in the UK. Along with the Scottish Highlands, the South of England has been highlighted as a high risk area. The evidence for the South of England may, however, be skewed by the fact the most research into the disease has been carried out in this area. It is best to say there is a risk across the whole of the UK.
The risk of getting bitten is valid all year round though most appear to happen during late spring, early summer and autumn. This is probably because that is when most people are out walking or camping.
Only a small proportion of ticks carry the bacteria so being bitten doesn’t mean you will be infected. It is, of course, important to be aware of the risk and seek medical advice if you feel at all ill.
According to Public Health England (PHE),
no more than 10% of the ticks in question have the bacteria that can then cause Lyme disease. The organisation estimates 3,000 people contract the disease a year.
How can we prevent Lyme Disease?
The easy answer is don’t go where there are ticks! However, that defeats the whole idea of getting outside, so it is important to look at other ways to prevent contracting the disease.
If you are walking through an area where you are likely to encounter ticks. Wear long-sleeved shirts tucked into long trousers and socks. To stop the ticks going up the trouser leg wear gaiters as well.
Keep to the middle of footpaths and try an avoid long grass.
You could also treat your clothes with permethrin which will kill ticks that land on treated clothes. This will usually last a few washes but follow the instructions on the product and do not apply directly onto your skin!
To protect your skin directly use an insect repellant with at least 20-30% DEET. Personally I use one of the 100% DEET repellents available on the market. I appreciate that some people do not like the use of DEET as it is a strong chemical. But if used carefully and kept away from children and pets the hazard can be reduced
Once you return from a trip always check yourself thoroughly for ticks. Do not forget to check areas such as groin, armpits and scalp. If you find a tick remove it with one of the specialist tools or a pair of tweezers. Make sure the whole of the tick is removed.
Remember, the chances of getting Lyme disease are very remote when you consider the number of people who take part in outdoor activities each year and the few cases reported. However, simple precautions can prevent you from becoming one of those remote statistics.