Lorraine: Dr Hilary discusses symptoms of Lyme disease
Lyme disease is an infection that can be spread to humans via the bite of an infected tick. While many people with the infection will experience flu-like symptoms lasting a few weeks, for others it can become more serious. And with cases on the rise in the UK, health bodies have issued advice on how to stay safe.
It is estimated that there are around 3,000 to 4,000 cases of Lyme disease every year in England and Wales.
However, research from 2019 found that real numbers could be at least three times higher.
Officials reported cases in England and Wales rose from 268 to 959 between 2001 and 2011. By 2021, this had soared to 1,156.
In Scotland, rates are much higher with 4,083 cases recorded in 2017.
Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi.
Among humans this is most commonly spread through infected ticks, which are spider-like creatures that live in grassy and wooded areas.
They feed on the blood of mammals and birds, and their bites are often painless meaning you won’t realise you’ve been bitten.
Not all ticks are infected – it is estimated that around 10 percent of ticks in the UK carry Lyme disease.
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The sooner you spot the signs of Lyme disease, the easier it is to treat.
According to the NHS, a circular or oval-shaped rash around a tick bite is an early symptom of Lyme disease in some people.
This rash usually appears within one to four weeks but it can appear up to three months after being bitten. It can last for several weeks.
“The rash may be flat, or slightly raised, and look pink, red, or purple when it appears on white skin,” the NHS explains.
“It can be harder to see the rash on brown and black skin and it may look like a bruise.”
Other common symptoms include:
- A high temperature
- Feeling hot and shivery
- Muscle and joint pain
- Tiredness and loss of energy.
Some people with Lyme disease can experience severe side effects, which is more likely if treatment is delayed.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention says these can include:
- Severe headaches and neck stiffness
- Facial palsy (loss of muscle tone or droop on one or both sides of the face)
- Arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, particularly the knees and other large joints.
- Intermittent pain in tendons, muscles, joints, and bones
- Heart palpitations or an irregular heart beat (Lyme carditis)
- Episodes of dizziness or shortness of breath
- Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord
- Nerve pain
- Shooting pains, numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet.
Ahead of Lyme Disease Awareness Month in May, charity Lyme Disease UK is warning people to be vigilant.
It advises you to:
- Take effective tick repellent on outdoor trips and a tick removal tool
- Wearing permethrin-treated outdoor clothing for high-risk activities and occupations
- Avoid walking through long grass and stick to pathways wherever possible
- Wear light-coloured clothing, as this will make it easier to spot ticks and brush them off
- Wear long sleeves and tuck trousers into socks
- Shower and carry out a thorough tick check on yourself, children, and pets when you get home.
“Remember that ticks can be as small as poppy seeds, so careful checking is key,” the charity adds. “Pay special attention to the hairline and behind the ears of young children.”
To safely remove a tick the NHS says:
- Use fine-tipped tweezers or a tick-removal tool. You can buy these from some pharmacies, vets and pet shops
- Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible
- Slowly pull upwards, taking care not to squeeze or crush the tick. Dispose of it when you have removed it
- Clean the bite with antiseptic or soap and water.
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