What is Lyme disease?

This is a photo of dense green vegetation which provides the perfect habitat for ticks to live in.
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What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection which can be spread through the bite of an infected tick. It is a very serious condition which affects the nervous system.

Although 3000 new cases of Lyme disease are reported every year in England and Wales this is thought to be a gross underestimation as Lyme disease is notoriously difficult to diagnose. The real number is thought to be more like 10,000.

Early symptoms of Lyme disease can include flu like symptoms (fever, headache and fatigue), paralysis of the face and nerve pains.

It is associated with a red ‘bulls-eye’ rash around the site of the bite but it’s important to know that not all cases of Lyme disease present this trademark rash.

There is no vaccine against Lyme disease. If it is not treated quickly, there is a risk of developing chronic symptoms including meningitis, swelling of the joints, memory loss, face paralysis, numbness or limb pains, eye and heart problems.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread through the bite of an infected tick. It is a very serious condition which affects the nervous system

This is a photo of a Ixodes ricinus tick which poses the most threat to people.
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The threat posed to your family by tick bites

Ticks are small, spider like creatures that feed on the blood of animals and humans. Ticks climb to the tips of vegetation and search for potential hosts to feed on. During this feeding process, ticks can transmit infectious diseases, like Lyme disease.

Evidence suggests that the chances of Lyme disease being transmitted increases the longer a tick is feeding which means prompt and correct removal of ticks is essential.

There are approximately 20 species of ticks found in the UK. Ixodes ricinus (also known as sheep or castor bean ticks) pose the most threat to humans.

This is a photo of wild deer in the countryside. Ticks host on deer and rising deer numbers are thought to be largely to blame for the increase in Lyme disease cases in the UK.
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Where do you find infected ticks?

It is a common misconception that infected ticks are mainly in the South of England and the Scottish Highlands. 

Infected ticks thrive in any area where there is dense ground vegetation, like woodlands but can also be found in urban parks, as in the high profile case of Matt Dawson. The former England rugby player was infected with Lyme disease after a visit to Richmond Park and had to undergo multiple heart operations and is still on medication.

According to The Big Tick Project (a national survey and awareness campaign) almost the entire UK poses a tick risk. View the interactive map here to find out about your area.

“Infected ticks thrive in any area where there is dense ground vegetation, like woodlands but can also be found in urban parks”

Ticks thrive in dense ground vegetation, like woods.
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When are your family most at risk?

Ticks are most active between March and October although Lyme disease cases are reported all year round. Recent warm winters (thought to be linked to climate change) have seen ticks active all year round.

Tick activity is especially high in the Spring.
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Can your family catch ticks from your pets?

Yes. Ticks attach to pets while outside and can then move to their owners. Researchers at the University of Bristol studied 14,000 dogs across the UK and found that almost a third were carrying a tick.

Keep up to date with your pet tick treatments (usually combined with flea treatments). We find FIPROtec and Advantage combined treatments work well.

“It is really important that pet owners understand how they can treat their pets for ticks and reduce the risk of the further spread of these horrible, debilitating and potentially dangerous diseases to the UK”

Chris Packham, TV presenter and naturalist
Ticks lurk in grass and vegetation and latch onto pets who carry ticks back into the family home.
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Do ticks carry any other diseases?

Ticks also carry Encephalitis, a virus which can affect the brain and central nervous system. Encephalitis can be fatal. It is mainly associated with Europe and parts of Asia but has now made its way to the UK. It was detected for the first time in 2019 in Thetford Forest and the Hampshire-Dorset border.

Ticks also carry Babesia, parasites that infect red blood cells which cause symptoms similar to Lyme disease.

Ticks can transmit a number of serious bacterial infections to people, including Lyme disease and encephalitis, which can be fatal.
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What you can do to help spot ticks

  • Ticks can be very small and hard to spot
  • Tick bites don’t always hurt
  • Thoroughly check yourself and your children after outdoor activities
  • Be especially careful to check your children around their midriffs, necks, behind ears and along the hairline where children are most commonly bitten
  • Check your pets for ticks

How you can remove ticks safely

  • Prompt and correct tick removal can reduce the risk of developing Lyme disease
  • Remove ticks using a tick removal tool or fine-tipped tweezers
  • Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull upwards – slowly and firmly with even pressure
  • Do not handle the tick with bare hands
  • Apply antiseptic to the bite area or wash with soap and water
  • Wash your hands afterwards
  • Put the tick in a sealed plastic bag and keep in the freezer for identification purposes in case you later become ill
  • Monitor for several weeks
  • If unable to remove the tick successfully, visit a GP or A&E immediately

When to get medical help

Public Health England lists symptoms of Lyme disease as one or more of the following:

  • Flu-like symptoms (tiredness, muscle pain, joint pain, headaches, high temperature, chills, neck stiffness)
  • Paralysis of facial muscles
  • Nerve pains, which may be sharp or prickly
  • Circular ‘bulls-eye’ rash around the tick bite around 3-30 days after bite

Although Lyme disease is associated with a ‘bulls-eye’ rash, it’s important to remember that not all cases of Lyme disease present this trademark rash.

The NHS recommends that you seek advice from your GP or dial 111 if you feel unwell after being bitten by a tick, even when you don’t have a rash. Remember to tell your GP that you have been bitten by a tick or have recently spent time outdoors and are worried it might be an infected tick bite.

If you do notice a rash, draw around the rash with a pen to monitor any changes and take photos to show your GP or hospital.

Going outdoors. Think tick prevention. Think Botanic Protect.