Charities warn of worsening tick problem
AS TICK season begins, charities are warning of the dangers of lyme disease, a bacterial infection contracted via tick bites, as cases rise in the UK, Europe and North America.
At the turn of the century there were only around 250 reported cases of lyme disease in the UK each year, but now the government estimates around 2,000 to 3,000 people contract it annually – roughly eight people per day. However, the charities Caudwell Lyme Co and Lyme Disease UK claim the true number could be around 45,000.
Early treatment with antibiotics is generally effective, but if symptoms are not spotted early, the disease can be life- changing.
Caulwell Lyme Co explains: ‘Lyme can start slowly and feel like flu, or hit people like a sledgehammer. Apart from severe exhaustion and chronic pain, it can cause life-threatening irregular heartbeat, arthritis, encephalitis (brain inflammation) and neurolog- ical problems ranging from loss of feeling and paralysis to mental confusion and memory loss.
‘Several thousand people in the UK are suffering chronic illness after catching lyme disease, some of whom are too ill to return to work or lead a normal life, while nerves can take years to heal after the infection has been cleared, and arthritis may never go.’
Incubation time is three to 30 days. The first symptom is usually a rash, which spreads from the site of the tick bite, and is not generally painful or itchy. There are often accompanying flu-like symptoms.
In a small number of more serious cases, there is infection of the nervous system – symptoms include viral-like meningitis, facial palsy and nerve damage. Anyone with these symptoms who has been in a high risk area should seek medical attention.
In Scotland, lyme disease is most commonly caught in the Highlands and Islands, and the risk of tick bites is highest from April to October, when the ticks are most active.
Most at-risk occupations are as sheep and deer farmers, gamekeepers, vets, forestry, agricultural and conservation workers, and outdoor pursuits instructors, but cyclists, ramblers and dog-walkers should also be vigilant too.
Last year the University of Bristol’s Big Tick Project found 31 per cent of dogs checked at random during a vet visit were found to be carrying a tick.