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Lyme Disease

by Jane Hodgson 5 May 2009


Anyone working or doing activities in the countryside should be aware of Lyme disease and should check themselves, their pets and children for ticks after outdoor activities.

What does a tick look like and how do I remove it?

What is it?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bacteria borrelia burgdorferi.

How do you get it?

Nearly always it is caused by a bite from a tick which is carrying the disease.

Who’s at risk of getting Lyme disease?

Anyone who works or does sport in the countryside.

Ticks prefer to live in woods, heathland and moorland, so anyone moving through these areas could pick up a tick.
Commonly, groups of people affected include:

  • Orienteers
  • Fell walkers
  • Fell Runners
  • Geocachers
  • Gamekeepers
  • Dog walkers
  • Fly Fishermen
  • Campers
  • Farmers

Is there a time of the year when I’m more likely to get bitten by a tick?

Ticks are more active during the summer months, but you could get a tick bite at any time of the year.

Ticks transfer onto humans and other animals by sitting on plants then moving onto a new host as it pushes through the undergrowth. Ticks can’t fly or jump, so the deeper the undergrowth, for instance tall bracken in the summer compared to dead bracken in the winter, the easier it is for the tick to transfer across.

What does a tick look like?

Ticks are related to mites and spiders.

The smallest ticks may just look like a spot of dirt on your skin, or a dark freckle, but one that doesn’t come off in the shower!

I’ve never heard of Lyme disease before is it new?

No the disease has been around for many years, but it is better recognised now.

What’s the treatment for Lyme disease?

The old saying “prevention is better than cure” is a good one here.
The first principle is to try to prevent your self from getting bitten by a tick:

  • Make it more difficult for ticks to get to your skin: Wear shoes not sandals and long trousers rather than shorts. Tuck your socks into your trousers
  • Consider clothing impregnated by a repellent such as permethrin or DEET
  • Check youself after any activity that has taken you into an area where there may have been ticks: Don’t just check the areas of your skin that have been exposed. Once on you a tick will crawl around and often latch on in a warm spot- perhaps in the crotch, armpit, or behind the knees.
  • Don’t assume that because you haven’t been bitten because you haven’t felt anything. Tick bites are generally painless.
  • Check pets as well. If your pet has picked up a tick, it can easily get passed on to you.
  • If you find a tick on you remove it immediately.

Help I’ve found a tick on me!

You need to remove it as quickly as possible, the longer the tick stays on you the more chance there is of it passing on any infection it is carrying.
The tick will have its mouth parts embedded in your skin, so you need to make sure you remove all parts of the tick, and not make it regurgitate its stomach contents into you whilst doing so.
The best way of removing a tick is to use a tick remover. These are available from pet shops, or on-line.
Slide the hook of the tick remover between the tick and the skin and gently pull the tick off.
If you’ve found a tick on you but don’t keep a tick remover in your first aid kit then you probably don’t want to order off the internet and wait for the post to arrive! – use a pair of tweezers instead, but be careful not to squeeze the ticks head or it may regurgitate its stomach contents into you. Then buy a tick remover for next time.

  • Do not cover the tick with Vaseline/ petroleum jelly
  • Do not attempt to burn it off
  • Do not squeeze it

Does that mean I’m now going to get Lyme disease

No the majority of people who are bitten by a tick won’t go on to get any symptoms. Remember the tick has to be carrying the infection itself in order to pass it on to you.
You do however need to keep an eye out for any symptoms which are diverse and variable but may include:

  • Bulls eye rash- a red rash that starts at the site of the tick bite and spreads outwards
  • Flu like symptoms
  • Joint pains
  • Muscle pains or weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headache

Lyme disease is systemic, which means it can affect almost any of the body systems.

The incubation period for Lyme disease can be anything from 2 to 30 days after infection following a tick bite. So bear in mind that any symptoms within a month of the tick bite may be attributable to Lyme. If you do suffer any ill health within a month of a tick bite mention it to your medical practitioner. Lyme is easier to treat if diagnosed early on.

Where can I read more about Lyme disease? and Lyme Disease Action are UK based charities with websites that have in depth information.

Disclaimer: The information on this page is written to help you understand Lyme disease. Lyme is potentially a very serious illness, and should you have any concerns you should always seek advice from a qualified medical professional.

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About the author

Jane Hodgson - Chartered Physiotherapist Jane Hodgson Jane specialises in lower body injuries and has raced competitively in running, orienteering and adventure racing.

Did you know

Lyme disease is spread by the bite of an infected tick.

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