Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is spread to humans from ticks.
Ticks are small, spider-shaped creatures that feed on the blood of mammals, including humans.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) state that the most common symptom of Lyme disease is the onset of a red skin rash that looks similar to a bull’s eye on a dartboard.
However, if Lyme disease is left untreated, further symptoms can follow including:
- A high temperature (fever) of 38ºC (100.4ºF) or higher;
- Muscle pain;
- Joint pain and swelling;
- Neurological symptoms, such as temporary paralysis of the facial muscles.
A person with Lyme disease cannot spread the disease to another through normal social contact.
How common is Lyme disease?
According to the HSE, Lyme disease is not a common infection. It is estimated that there are between 50 and 100 cases in Ireland each year.
The ticks that cause Lyme disease are commonly found in woodland and heathland areas.
This is because these types of habitats have a high number of tick-carrying animals, such as deer, mice and sheep.
Due to their breeding patterns, the tick population is highest in late spring and early summer.
Who is at risk?
Ramblers, campers, mountain bikers, and people who work and walk-in forested/grassy areas are at greatest risk of being bitten by ticks and developing Lyme disease, but even in these groups, the risk is low.
How to avoid tick bites
The public health service provider has provided a list of ways to avoid being bitten by tick:
- Walk in the middle of paths/trails; avoid overgrown vegetation, sitting on logs and leaning against trees;
- Wear a hat and tuck in hair;
- Wear a long-sleeved shirt fitted at the wrist;
- Wear shoes, not sandals or bare feet;
- Wear long trousers tucked into socks or boots;
- Consider using an insect repellent containing DEET;
- Wear white or light coloured clothing to make ticks more visible and inspect clothes every 3-4 hours;
- At the end of your day out, check yourself (and your children) for ticks. Check both skin and hair, particularly warm moist areas such as the groin, backs of knees, armpits and neck. Pay particular attention to the head, neck and scalp of children;
- If you find a tick, remove it and consult your GP if symptoms develop;
- Check your pets for ticks after outdoor activities too.
I have been bitten by a tick, what should I do?
The HSE has offered the following advice in the event that you are bitten by a tick:
- Your risk of developing Lyme disease increases the longer the tick is attached to your skin. However, if the tick is removed within the first few hours after a bite, you are very unlikely to become infected;
- Remove the tick (ideally with tweezers) by gripping it close to the skin. Wash the area as soon as possible afterwards with soap and water;
- If any of the mouthparts of the tick are left behind, remove as much as possible with tweezers;
- Check the skin over the next few weeks for a rash. Initial redness and swelling the same day is normal and does not indicate infection;
- If a rash or other symptoms develop, see your GP and report being bitten by a tick;
- Your GP will make a diagnosis and prescribe treatment if necessary.
How is Lyme disease treated?
Lyme disease can be treated using antibiotics. The treatment lasts generally for up to three weeks to ensure that the bacteria have been killed.
It is important that the full course of antibiotics is taken to prevent a wider spread of the bacteria.