Lyme disease: What it is and how to prevent and treat it
If your training runs and rides, or family hikes and adventures, take you through leafy lanes, forest trails and moorland, you may be venturing into tick habitat. And a potential consequence could be Lyme disease, says Andrew Gold of Lyme Disease Action
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which is often carried by ticks and can be transmitted to people if they're bitten by an infected tick.
The ticks inject an anaesthetic when they bite, so you won’t feel it, and an anticoagulant to make the blood flow freely. If unrecognised, or inadequately treated, it can make you seriously ill. But the good news is that not all ticks are infected, though nobody really knows the extent of the illness in the tick population. But saying that, any tick bite should be watched carefully.
Where are you at risk of picking up Lyme disease?
Ticks cannot cope with drying out, so they prefer areas that are shady and damp. They can remain protected in shady woods, heaths and long grassland. They've even been found in short grassland on the edge of shady car-parks and picnic spots, where you might be sitting on the ground changing your shoes or eating your sandwich!
On a hot dry day they're likely to be hiding close to the ground, but on a damp day, or in a shady spot, they may be lying in wait for you - 'questing' on the edge of a grass blade with their front legs extended. Cold weather makes them dormant, but the temperature only has to rise above 7°C for them to be active.
Some ticks are as small as the full stop on this page, but can still give you Lyme disease.
How can you prevent Lyme disease?
It’s best to be aware, and these simple precautions will reduce your risk of being infected:
* Wear long sleeves and long leg coverings.
* Use a proven tick repellent, especially if going 'off road' – even for a short time.
* Check your body, especially in warm moist spots which ticks favour as feeding sites. If you're out all day in ‘tick country’ check yourself during the day too.
* Brush down your clothing to remove any unattached ticks.
* When you change or shower, check your skin. Pay particular attention to the hairline and ears of young children, but check everywhere.
What should I do if I find a tick?
If you find a tick attached remove it carefully, preferably with a proprietary tool. Squeezing it, applying creams, lit matches, cigarettes or alcohol, might cause the tick to regurgitate its stomach contents, along with any bacteria it's carrying. Don’t use your fingernails to pull it off. Then kill the tick by crushing it between two pieces of paper and flushing it down the toilet, or by folding it in a strip of sticky tape and placing it in the waste. Do not use your bare fingers. We always recommend carrying a tick removal tool in your first aid kit.
Then you watch and wait to see if you get ill! The bite itself will stay red for a few days (as with a splinter), but this is nothing to worry about.
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
The good news is, if the infection is caught early enough, your GP should prescribe antibiotics that have a high chance of stopping the disease in its tracks.
The average time for symptoms to appear is about 10 days, but it can be sooner or later so continue to watch for any ‘odd’ symptoms over the next few weeks.
Appearance of a spreading rash means you have Lyme disease and need treating without waiting for a blood test, but your GP may not know this so refer him to www.lymediseaseaction.org.uk.
Even without a rash, flu like or other symptoms may appear. If they do, or even if you're just uncharacteristically unwell, go to your doctor and tell them about the tick bite.
if you need to know more there is a wealth of information from official sources at www.lymediseaseaction.org.uk.