Lyme disease is a bacterial infection which is transmitted by tick bites and the Health Protection Agency is advising people to take care when visiting areas where ticks are present, to prevent tick bites and reduce the risk of catching Lyme disease.
Latest provisional figures from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) show there were 953 laboratory-confirmed cases of Lyme disease reported in England and Wales in 2010. The majority of these cases were acquired in the UK rather than overseas, with two-thirds of cases identified among residents in the South of England.
The overall figure for England and Wales is estimated at between 2,000 and 3,000 cases a year as in previous years, as some cases are clinically diagnosed rather than being laboratory tested. Incidence of Lyme disease acquired in England and Wales remains low compared to some other European countries, particularly those in central Europe and Scandinavia.
Ticks are tiny spider-like creatures which can be found in forests, woodland, heaths, moorland areas and in suburban parkland. Any area in which ticks are present should be regarded as having a potential risk of Lyme disease. Late spring, early summer and autumn are peak times for tick bites and coincide with people venturing into the great outdoors in the warmer weather.
Dr Dilys Morgan, head of gastrointestinal, emerging and zoonotic infections department at the HPA, said: “It’s important that people take preventive measures against tick bites and also look out for ticks after visiting affected areas especially in the southern counties of England, the Lake District and the Scottish Highlands to reduce the risk of catching Lyme disease.”
Cases of Lyme disease are often acquired through recreational activities including walking, hiking and mountain-biking. Areas where the infection has been acquired in the UK include popular holiday destinations such as Exmoor, the New Forest, the South Downs, parts of Wiltshire and Berkshire, Thetford Forest, the Lake District, the Yorkshire moors and the Scottish Highlands.
Dr Morgan added: “Ticks that can transmit Lyme disease are very small – about the size of a poppy seed – and can easily be overlooked, so it is important to check regularly for attached ticks on the skin. Most ticks do not carry the infection but if one is found it should be removed promptly, as infected ticks are unlikely to transmit the organism if they are removed in the early stages of attachment. Ticks can be removed with tweezers or special tick hooks, pulling gently upwards away from the skin. People who develop a rash or other symptoms after a tick bite should consult their GP.”
To minimise the risk of being bitten by an infected tick, the HPA advice is to:
- Wear appropriate clothing in tick-infested areas (a long sleeved shirt and long trousers tucked into socks). Light coloured fabrics are useful, as it is easier to see ticks against a light background
- Consider using insect repellents, e.g. DEET-containing preparations,
- Inspect skin frequently and remove any attached ticks
- At the end of the day, check again thoroughly for ticks, especially in skin folds
- Make sure that children’s head and neck areas, including scalps, are properly checked
- Check that ticks are not brought home on clothes
- Check that pets do not bring ticks into the home on their fur
Health protection Agency – About the symptoms of Lyme borreliosis and tick bite prevention
Lyme disease leaflets produced in conjunction with The Royal Parks and New Forest District Council.
Lyme Disease Action – UK based Lyme Disease Charity. Striving for prevention and treatment of Lyme Disease and associated tick-borne diseases.