Lyme’s Disease
EDP column by Dr Ketan Dhatariya

“I recently went walking in Thetford Forest. Before I went I was told to wear long sleeves and long trousers – even when it was so hot. Why was this?"

This was to prevent you getting bitten by a wood tick. This animal usually lives on small animals such as squirrels and mice, or larger animals such as deer. The tick feeds on their blood but occasionally they fall off and can find their way onto a passing human. They can carry bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi which causes the condition called Lyme’s disease. This is a condition that can cause a number of non-specific symptoms such as a headache, nausea and fever, but is associated with a characteristic rash – often (but not always) described as having a ‘bull’s eye’ appearance. It is important to have this treated, because if it is left without treatment then the condition can eventually affect the heart, the joints and the nervous system.

If you have been walking out in wooded areas, and you have noticed that you have been bitten, then when you go to see your GP they will probably ask for a blood test to help in the diagnosis. If the diagnosis is confirmed then the treatment is a course of antibiotics that need to be taken for a few weeks. If the condition is treated early, then the recovery can be swift and uncomplicated, however, if the condition is left untreated for a while before it is diagnosed, then it may be necessary to have a second long course of antibiotics.

Lyme’s disease is not passed on by physical contact to another person. It can be carried by ticks on domestic pets, and it is important to consider treating dogs and cats if they are found to carry any ticks.

As with almost everything, prevention is better than cure and so when the ticks are most active – during the summer months – try to avoid entering a tick area, walk in the centre of any woodland trail to avoid contact with overgrown grass, brush, and leaf litter, and as you have heard, wear avoid wearing shorts or short sleeves. If it’s going to be unavoidable, then use an insect repellent. Wearing light coloured clothing may also help you to spot these tiny animals more easily. If you have been out then it is important to check yourself – include your armpits, scalp and groin. If you find a tick, use a pair of fine tweezers to remove it – taking care not to crush the body.

As always, if in any doubt, pay a visit to your pharmacist or GP.

For more information about Lyme's Disease click these links: