Lyme disease: Why it’s on the rise and how to protect yourself

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hether you’re heading for a picnic, simply reading a book in the park or taking your dog out for a walk, this summer you may want to be cautious of contracting Lyme disease.

HAS new studyby the British Medical Journal Global Health, has found that there were 1,156 laboratory-confirmed cases in the UK in 2021, and that figure is set to rise each year.

The study stated that more than 14 per cent of the world’s population may have had Lyme disease.

With the symptoms of the illness believed to affect some of those infected for years, it’s crucial to know what to do if you are bitten – as well as how to protect yourself and avoid bites from the ticks.

Here’s everything you need to know about the disease, as well as how to keep yourself safe this summer.

What is Lyme disease and how can you catch it?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection, which is spread by infected ticks that thrive in humid and warm temperatures.

Not all ticks in the UK carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, but it’s important to remove it as soon as possible and get your bite checked. The NHS says it is often easier to treat if it’s diagnosed early.

The ticks tend to live in shady and moist areas, and are often found clinging to tall grass or low shrubs in woods, parks and gardens.

If you’ve been bitten by a tick infected with the disease, you may notice a circular or oval-shaped rash.

Unfortunately, the rash can appear up to three months after a person is bitten, which makes early checking and treatment tricky. However, it can appear within one to four weeks.

The NHS website states: “The rash can have a darker or lighter area in the center and might gradually spread. It’s not usually hot or itchy.

“The rash may be flat, or slightly raised, and look pink, red, or purple when it appears on white skin. It can be harder to see the rash on brown and black skin and it may look like a bruise.”

You may start feeling flu-like symptoms including:

  • Tiredness and a loss of energy
  • High temperatures or shivers
  • Headaches
  • Muscle and joint pain

And, while treatment merely involves a course of antibiotics, this may need to be taken for up to 28 days and it does not eradicate the chances of long-term symptoms continuing.

The NHS website explains: “Most people with Lyme disease get better after antibiotic treatment. This can take months for some people, but the symptoms should improve over time.”

It warns that there can be ongoing symptoms, which last for years after, including tiredness, aches and a loss of energy.

Why are Lyme disease cases rising?

Lyme disease cases are on the rise due to global warming, as the ticks thrive in warm and humid temperatures.

The study stated: “[Lyme disease] is the most prominent tick-borne disease, and tick populations (carriers of microbial pathogens second only to mosquitoes) have expanded globally and geographically in recent years, thereby greatly increasing the risk of human exposure to ticks.

“This may be related to ecological changes and anthropogenic factors, such as longer summers and warmer winters.”

Lyme Disease Action charity chairman Stella Huyshe-Shires told The Telegraph: “Ticks like to come out when the weather’s humid and warm and as the summers are getting hotter and winters are getting slightly warmer, they’re active for longer and putting more people at risk.”

People spending more time in green spaces has also been attributed as a potential reason as to why cases are rising.

How to protect yourself from Lyme disease and avoid getting bitten

There are several ways that you can avoid getting bitten by ticks when outdoors.

Ensure you cover your skin when you’re walking outside, particularly through shady and moist areas in woods or forests, by tucking your trousers into your socks – as they live low to the ground.

You should also cover your clothes and skin in insect repellant sprays or ointments, with the NHS advising you to use products with DEET in them. DEET is scientifically known as diethyltoluamide and is a key ingredient in insect repellants.

Try to stay on clear paths when possible, too, rather than straying to other routes with high grass.

The NHS also recommends wearing light-coloured clothing so that you can see when a tick has become attached to it.

If you do spot a tick on you, there are four steps to removing it safely.

Tea NHS guidelines suggests:

  • Using fine-tipped tweezers or a tick-removal tool. You can buy these from some pharmacies, vets and pet shops.
  • Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible.
  • Slowly pull upwards, taking care not to squeeze or crush the tick. Dispose of it when you have removed it.
  • Clean the bite with antiseptic or soap and water.

Unless you spot a rash or become unwell, you do not need to do anything after removing the tick.

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