What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is an infection caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, sometimes known as Lyme Borreliosis. Animals and birds carry the it in their bloodstream and ticks may pick this up whilst feeding on an infected animal and pass it on to others and humans during the next meal.
Where is it found?
Lyme disease can be found throughout the UK and is on the increase. Avril Lavigne has spoken about her struggle with Lyme disease after being struck by the illness, and her long wait for diagnosis.
How is it transmitted?
Ticks resemble small spiders and thrive where there is enough humidity from vegetation to prevent them from drying out. It occurs in woodland, pastures, moorlands parks and gardens.
Ticks need animals to feed on such as rodents, ground-feeding birds and larger animals such as sheep and deer. Although sheep and deer may carry ticks, research has shown that they have some natural immunity to it. Small mammals such as mice, voles, hedgehogs and ground-feeding birds are the main reservoir for Lyme disease. Ticks are most active between March and October.
When in need of a meal they will climb a stalk of vegetation and wait, with hooked front legs extended, for a passing host. They will then walk on the host to find a suitable spot and pierce the skin with barned mouthparts, making them difficult to remove. Readers may be familiar with ticks on pets – these are the larger adult form; the stage that attaches to humans is the nymph – about the size of a pinhead before it swells with blood. Typical places are behind the knee and in the groin; most adults are bitten below the waist, small children above the waist.
It is important to check for ticks and remove them correctly with a tick removal tool. Do not use petroleum jelly, burning or attempt to remove with fingernails as this may stress the tick and increase the risk of infection. Check your whole body, including the scalp of small children.
How is it treated?
Treatment is with antibiotics and the sooner the better, the greater the chance of a good recovery.