Lyme disease warning as cases surge in England – how to spot symptoms and signs

By Staff 7 Min Read

The UK Health Security Agency has issued a warning over Lyme disease as the weather warms up and people head outside – here’s how to spot the signs and symptoms

The UK Health Security Agency has issued a warning about Lyme disease as people start spending more time outdoors with the arrival of spring.

Ticks, which are tiny critters that live in grassy and hidden places, might be carrying the bacterial infection known as Lyme disease. Case reports of this dangerous illness soared by a third last summer. From April to September 2023, England witnessed a massive surge in Lyme disease cases, with 882 acute instances compared to only 635 the previous year, stated the latest figures from UKHSA.

Over 70 per cent of these were reported from the regions of South West, South East and London, although the actual location of the tick bite may have been different, reports the Express. But believe it or not, the true total number of Lyme disease cases is thought to be even higher.

The UKHSA says: “The number of laboratory-confirmed cases presented in this report is therefore likely an underestimate of the true burden of acute Lyme disease in England.”

What exactly is Lyme disease?

It’s a nasty infection caused by bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi which is generally spread to humans through infected ticks. These creatures are like small spiders living in grassy and wooded areas. They feast on the blood of mammals and birds, and their biting is usually painless so you may not even know you’ve been bitten.

While most tick bites are harmless, around 10 per cent of ticks in the UK carry Lyme disease. It’s important to seek treatment if you think you’ve been bitten by a tick. One of the early signs of Lyme disease is a circular or oval-shaped rash around the bite. This rash usually appears within one to four weeks, but it can take up to three months to develop.

It can last for several weeks

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

Other common symptoms include:

  • A high temperature
  • Feeling hot and shivery
  • Headache
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Tiredness and loss of energy.

If treatment is delayed, some people with Lyme disease can experience severe side effects. These can include:

  • Severe headaches and neck stiffness
  • Facial palsy (loss of muscle tone or droop on one or both sides of the face)
  • Arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, particularly the knees and other large joints.
  • Intermittent pain in tendons, muscles, joints, and bones
  • Heart palpitations or an irregular heart beat (Lyme carditis)
  • Episodes of dizziness or shortness of breath
  • Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord
  • Nerve pain
  • Shooting pains, numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet.

To avoid becoming infected in the first place, Lyme Disease UK recommends:

  • Take effective tick repellent on outdoor trips and a tick removal tool
  • Wearing permethrin-treated outdoor clothing for high-risk activities and occupations
  • Avoid walking through long grass and stick to pathways wherever possible
  • Wear light-coloured clothing, as this will make it easier to spot ticks and brush them off
  • Wear long sleeves and tuck trousers into socks
  • Shower and carry out a thorough tick check on yourself, children, and pets when you get home.

“Remember that ticks can be as small as poppy seeds, so careful checking is key,” the charity adds. “Pay special attention to the hairline and behind the ears of young children.”

To safely remove a tick, the NHS advises:

  • Use 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.

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