Lyme disease: do you know the signs?

As more of us spend extended amounts of time outdoors in the countryside, city parks and in our gardens, one of the things we should be more aware of is the risk of getting Lyme disease.

This bacterial infection is spread to humans who are bitten by an infected tick. And while Public Health England says there are 2,000 to 3,000 new confirmed cases of Lyme disease in England and Wales each year, the charity Lyme Disease UK suggests this is likely to be a gross underestimate.

The good news is Lyme disease can be treated effectively with antibiotics if it’s diagnosed early. But if you don’t spot the signs and the disease is left untreated it can cause a range of long-lasting symptoms.

How do you get it?

The ticks that cause Lyme disease are tiny – about the size of a poppy seed – and are found in many places in the UK, including woodland, grassland, heaths, urban parks and gardens or allotments, or any area with long grass. The ticks sense their human prey by detecting carbon dioxide when you exhale, then hook themselves onto your clothing or skin. But because their bites don’t sting or itch, you may not realise you’ve been bitten.

What are the symptoms?

The first thing you may notice after being bitten by a Lyme-carrying tick is a circular red rash that spreads slowly (though in many people the rash doesn’t appear). This rash – which is typically around 15cm in diameter – usually appears around one to four weeks after you’ve been bitten. It looks a bit like a bull’s eye on a dart board, and the edges may feel slightly raised.

Other signs include flu-like symptoms such as headache, severe fatigue, muscle and joint pain, plus a stiff neck, disturbed sleep, blurred vision and swollen glands. Some people also find Lyme disease causes paralysis of the facial muscles, usually on one side of the face, as well as sharp or prickly nerve pains.

If it isn’t treated, Lyme disease can cause inflammatory arthritis, memory and concentration problems, with a small number of people going on to develop serious illnesses such as bacterial meningitis or heart problems such as pericarditis and myocarditis.

What should you do?

Not all ticks carry the bacteria, but it’s a good idea to check yourself whenever you’ve been outdoors in areas where they may be living. Here’s how Public Health England suggests you should remove them if you find one:

  • First remove the tick as soon as possible to reduce any potential risk.
  • The safest way to remove a tick is to use a pair of fine-tipped tweezers, or a tick removal tool.
  • Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible.
  • Pull upwards slowly and firmly, as mouthparts left in the skin can cause local irritation.
  • Clean the bite area with antiseptic or soap and water and keep an eye on it for several weeks for any changes.

If you think you may have been bitten or if you feel unwell with any of the above-mentioned symptoms, see your GP and let them know you’ve spent time in areas where ticks may live.

You can also speak to your local Careway pharmacist if you’re worried about any symptoms. Some pharmacies also sell tick removal tools and suitable tweezers for removing ticks.

Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.