‘Don’t ignore tick-borne Lyme disease’ is the message from the Public Health Agency (PHA) as we approach the summer months. Ticks can carry Lyme disease, a serious and debilitating disease which may be transmitted to humans through their bite.
Dr Michael Devine, Consultant in Health Protection, PHA, explained: “Lyme disease is a bacterial infection which is transmitted by tick bites. The earliest and most common symptom of Lyme disease is a pink or red circular rash that develops around the area of the bite, three to 30 days after someone is bitten. The rash is often described as looking like a bull’s-eye on a dart board. You may also experience flu-like symptoms such as tiredness, headaches and muscle or joint pain. If Lyme disease is left untreated, further symptoms may develop months or even years later.
“Late spring, early summer and autumn are peak times for tick bites, which coincide with people venturing outdoors in the warmer weather. It’s important that people take preventative measures against tick bites and also look out for ticks after visiting affected areas.”
Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne infectious disease in Europe. There were 1,201 laboratory confirmed cases of Lyme disease (B. burgdorferi) infection in humans in the UK in 2011 (959 in England and Wales, 229 in Scotland, and 13 in Northern Ireland). Although the number of Lyme disease cases in Northern Ireland is low compared with other parts of the UK, there are simple steps that can be taken to help reduce it even more.
Ticks are tiny spider-like creatures, which feed on the blood of animals and sometimes people. If you are involved in outdoor activities which take you into the countryside, parks or gardens with wildlife such as squirrels and hedgehogs, you may be at risk of tick bites.
Cases of Lyme disease are often acquired through recreational activities including dog walking, camping, hiking and mountain-biking, where tick exposure is more likely.
The best way of preventing Lyme disease is to avoid being bitten when you are in grassy or woodland areas known to have a high tick population. The following precautions might help to prevent Lyme disease:
- Wear a long-sleeved shirt;
- Tuck your trousers into your socks;
- Use insect repellent;
- Check yourself for ticks;
- Check your children and pets for ticks.
Dr Devine added: “Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose and it is important to get medical advice if a rash or other symptoms develop within a few weeks of a tick bite, as early treatment can prevent progression to chronic disease.”
Currently there are no vaccines to defend against tick-borne disease in the UK and Ireland. Therefore, the best defence is to avoid being bitten.
Public Health Agency