Ticks are tiny poppy-seed-sized insects that feed on the blood of animals and humans. They lurk in shady moist leaves and tall grass and cling to shrubs and low tree branches. Ticks in the UK occasionally carry bacteria that cause Lyme Disease. Caught early this causes little more than a rash and flu-like symptoms. Left untreated it can affect the joints, heart and nervous system.
- Early stage Lyme Disease – Bulls eye rash, Tiredness, muscle pain, joint pain, headache, fever or chills, neck stiffness.
- Mid stage Lyme Disease- Numbness and pain in limbs, temporary paralysis of facial muscles, impaired memory, difficultly concentrating, changes in personality, meningitis.
- Late stage Lyme Disease- Chronic joint pain, pins and needles, fatigue, depression, blue or red rash, thinning skin, dementia.
How is the condition caused?
Ticks mostly live on deer, sheep or other animals but will feed on humans too. Sometimes ticks carry a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi causing Lyme Borreliosis, better known as Lyme Disease.
Only a small number of ticks carry the disease, and they need to be attached to you for more than 24 hours (probably nearer 48 hours) for the bacteria to get into the bloodstream.
However, often people do not remember having been bitten, plus the ticks often cling to inaccessible places such as the armpit, groin, scalp or the back of the knee.
Caught early, the disease causes little more than a rash and flu like symptoms curable with antibiotics. Left untreated the disease enters a second phase (about six months after the bite) leading to neurological problems and muscle weakness.
In rare cases the disease moves into a third phase, slowly destroying the nervous system, causing numbing, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), chronic arthritis and dementia.
How is the condition treated?
If you are infected with Lyme Disease a large red rash (called Erythema Migrans) may develop between three and 30 days after the initial bite. This is commonly referred to as a 'bull's eye' rash due to its appearance. Not everyone gets the rash. Flu symptoms are also common in these early stages, together with tiredness, joint pains and headaches.
If you experience these symptoms, visit your GP explaining that you have recently been in an area where ticks might lurk. When the characteristic skin rash is present, Lyme Disease can be diagnosed solely on that. In the absence of a rash a blood test will be taken.
If Lyme Disease is confirmed you'll be given a course of antibiotics which should clear up the problem without further complications.
Lyme Disease is often mistaken for flu or other conditions and so not treated early enough.
Long-term therapy for chronic Lyme disease can involve, weeks, months or even years of intravenous antibiotics. There is little evidence to show this treatment is effective.
Alternative Remedies & Self-help
Lyme Disease is best prevented by avoiding tick bites. Basic measures include: wearing long sleeves and trousers, tucking trousers into socks, using insect repellent, wearing light-colours so that ticks can be seen, not sitting in vegetation, checking your body for ticks and quickly removing any you find.
To remove the tick: use pointed tweezers or loop cotton thread around the tick’s mouth parts, grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible. Remove all parts of its body to prevent it from releasing additional saliva into the bite wound. Don’t squeeze, twist or burn it off, because any stress on the tick can cause it to regurgitate its stomach contents (which may contain the infected bacteria) into your bloodstream.
Don’t remove it with your fingernail as infection can enter via breaks in your skin.
After removing a tick cleanse the bite site with antiseptic and wash your hands thoroughly. Ideally save the tick in a container for analysis in case you develop symptoms.