About Lyme disease
Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi. It’s most common in the USA but is becoming more prevalent in northern Europe as the climate warms. The illness is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected blacklegged tick, also known as a deer tick, tiny insects that it’s actually difficult to see, about the size of a poppy seed. The symptoms vary and tend to arrive in stages.
In most cases a tick has to remain on your skin for three to four days to transmit the disease. If you find one attached to you and it’s swollen up, it might well have been there long enough to pass the disease to you. If it’s been on your skin for less time than that, it’s unlikely you’ll be infected.
How to minimise the Lyme disease risk
How to minimise the chances of catching Lyme disease?
- If you’re spending time in the woods, wear long trousers and long sleeves
- If you work outdoors, do the same
- Remove ticks from your skin quickly and properly
Early symptoms of Lyme disease
- After a few days, a small red lump on the skin. This is normal and usually disappears in a few days. It doesn’t mean you’ve caught Lyme disease, but if you also get an expanding red area 3-30 days after being bitten, sometimes with a clear centre, it’s a sign
- A rash which can spread to 30 cm across, not itchy or painful , a hallmark of the disease
- Flu-like symptoms
- If you don’t get treatment, you might experience more rashes elsewhere on your body
- Severe, sometime shifting pain and swelling in your joints, especially the knees
- As long as years after you’ve been infected, neurological problems like meningitis and temporary facial paralysis, weak or numb limbs and difficulties moving your muscles
- Weeks after infection, a temporary irregular heartbeat
- Inflamed eyes and liver
- Severe tiredness
What happens if you don’t get treatment?
- Chronic inflammation of the knee and other joints
- Facial palsy
- Memory problems
- Irregular heart rhythm
When should you see your GP?
- If you’ve had a tick bite and are experiencing typical Lyme symptoms
- If you live in an area where the ticks are common and are showing signs and symptoms
- If you’ve had symptoms but they’ve disappeared – the absence of symptoms doesn’t mean you’re OK, it just means the disease could have gone ‘underground’ only to come back later
Treatment for Lyme disease
The earlier you get antibiotic treatment, the better it will work. That’s usually all you need to get rid of the illness. Left untreated it can spread around your body and stick around for years, causing all sorts of health issues including arthritis and issues with your nervous system.