Firstly I want to warn that this article may be alarming for some people. Please be assured that this disease has been around for years and the aim of this article is to educate and help people. Having this knowledge should you suffer a bite from an infected tick could help to get you the correct diagnoses and treatment far quicker than if you had no or little knowledge regarding ticks and Lyme Disease.
What Are Ticks?
There are around 20 species of tick but the one that is most common for biting humans is called Ixodes Ricinus, the black-legged tick also known as deer or sheep tick.
Ticks are around all year so there is no real specific time that you can be bitten. Normally the temperature needs to fall below freezing before tick activity is reduced. There are more reports of tick bites during the spring and summer months, this seems to be when they are more active. This is also when most humans are also more active and head outdoors hence the interaction and risk of being bitten greatly increases.
Ticks appear all over the from urban parks, gardens, woodland areas to mountains. Ticks can appear anywhere where there are animals so please don’t assume that because you have not been out in the countryside that you safe from tick bites. Those with pets or around animals on a more regular basis are at a slightly higher risk.
What Is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria known as Borrelia Burgdorferi (B. Burgdorferi). These bacteria and disease are spread by ticks that are infected by these bacteria, not all ticks are infected, that is worth remembering.
Lyme disease is the most common human tick-borne infectious disease in the northern hemisphere.
You can be bitten by ticks and be perfectly OK apart from maybe a bite mark that will clear in a day or two you can only be infected by Lyme Disease if the tick that bites you be infected and carrying the B. burgdorferi bacteria.
There are over 1000 cases of Lyme disease reported and confirmed each year but it is thought that this is not a true reflection as many people are misdiagnosed. This is due to Lyme disease often imitating other illnesses and can be misdiagnosed as ME, Fibromyalgia, Depression, Anxiety and even ALS.
One important thing to look out for if you have been bitten or even if you don’t think you have but have been out and about being a rash. This is commonly in the shape of a bullseye and can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to show up and is not always at the location of the bite. Not everyone will take this type of rash but if you do discover one please seek medical treatment quickly.
This is a picture of a somewhat typical rash ——>>>>>>>>>
Lyme disease is often treated with antibiotics and more than one course may be necessary. Should Lyme disease is left untreated it can become a debilitating illness. Even when diagnosed and treated quickly it can take several months for patients to return to full health.
There are 3 stages to Lyme Disease
Firstly, there is a localized stage. This is where the area affected by the bite be infected and this comes with flu-like symptoms, as below with headaches, fevers and chills etc.
The second stage is when the infection starts to spread throughout the body often attacking other areas including muscular-skeletal systems and patients can have muscle and joint pain, headaches and sensitivity to light in some cases. At this stage treatment with antibiotics is still the best course of action.
At this stage, it is more difficult to get a correct diagnosis as blood tests can show a false negative result for Lyme disease up to 30% of the time.
The last stage is where the disease has spread throughout the entire body and is often accompanied by chronic fatigue, worsening joint pain, nerve damage, often with tingling sensations and some neurological problems.
Risk Factors For Tick Bites and Lyme Disease
Are there really any risk factors for Lyme disease? In my opinion, everyone is really at risk but risks factors start to increase dependent on where you go and spend your time and what you do in the great outdoors. You simply could just get unlucky and be bitten walking across a park to your local shops.
For those who do love the outdoors and getting back into nature as often as possible, the risk factor surely increases but most are also aware of these risks and can take precautions to reduce risk.
Any outdoor activity carries a risk including gardening, hunting, hiking and camping to be among the riskiest. Places with long grasses are said to be particularly risky for picking up ticks.
If you take your pets outdoors they can also pick up ticks and transfer them to you and all pets should be regularly checked for ticks too. Many years ago my cat picked up a tick and it had to be removed and the only place he had been was out our back door. Had it not latched on to him he may have transferred it to me, whereby I could have been the one bitten.
Symptoms Of Lyme Disease
The most common symptoms of Lyme Disease are as follows:
• Fever and chills
• General Ill feeling
• Joint pain
• Stiff neck
• Muscle pain
So if you are active outdoors and do start to suffer any of these symptoms it is worth mentioning to your doctor that you are or have been:
• active outdoors or have been away camping
• you know you have been bitten by a tick
• you have had circular or ringed swelling that could indicate having been bitten by a tick.
Steps You Can Take to Reduce Bites and Infection
There are some precautions you can take to reduce the chance of being bitten and also to reduce the time any tick spends on you if you have. AND STAYING INDOORS IS NOT ONE OF THEM!!!
• Use a good insect repellent and look for one that also repels ticks.
• Wearing long-sleeved tops and full-length trousers that are tucked in. It also helps if your clothing is light in colour as they cannot hide as easily on them.
• If you have long hair tie it up, especially if lazing about in long grassed areas, these means less area for ticks to attach to.
• Check your full body at the end of each day for ticks or if you have a partner check each other thoroughly including the scalp. Remember that ticks can be about the size of a poppy seed so use a good light source to ensure you can see properly.
• Remove any ticks with a tick remover as soon as you can. We love these ones form Lifesystems as they are so easy to carry with you as they are credit card shaped.
Remember Your Pets
Please also remember to check your pets on a regular basis too, especially if they are long-haired. Animals are also at risk of being infected by Lyme Disease just like us humans. If you have removed a tick or ticks from your pet and they do become unwell please remember to mention this when seeking veterinary treatment.
Although this may sound slightly terrifying, we think to have the knowledge of ticks and their diseases and to seek treatment with this knowledge should you suffer bites or infection after bites is important.
Often Lyme disease is played down, especially here in the UK. Many doctors won’t even consider or think about Lyme’s if you show up presenting any of the symptoms unless you mention it.
Remember not all ticks are infected, check you, your partner, kids and pets regularly. Always carry a tick removal tool and use repellent that also repels ticks.
Go out and enjoy the outdoors as much as you can and relax that you now have the knowledge, should you be bitten, or become infected to get the proper medical treatment.