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Urgent Lyme disease warning after cases surge in England as tick seasons begins – news today

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A health body has issued an urgent warning over a potentially dangerous illness as we gear up to spend more time outdoors. As the weather warms up and people head outside, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has reminded people to be aware of ticks.

These tiny blood-sucking creatures live in grassy and wooded areas and may be carrying Lyme disease.

This is a bacterial infection that can be passed on to humans – and reported cases rose by a third last summer.

New data from the UKHSA showed that in England, there were 882 acute cases of Lyme disease between April and September in 2023, compared to just 635 the previous year.

More than 70 percent of cases were reported in the South West, the South East and London, although this does not necessarily reflect where the tick bite occurred.

However, it is thought the real number of Lyme disease cases is actually higher.

The UKHSA says: “The number of laboratory-confirmed cases presented in this report is therefore likely an underestimate of the true burden of acute Lyme disease in England.”

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, which is most commonly spread to humans via infected ticks.

These are spider-like creatures that live in grassy and wooded areas.

They feed on the blood of mammals and birds, and their bites are often painless meaning you won’t realise you’ve been bitten.

But not all ticks are infected – it is estimated that around 10 percent of ticks in the UK carry Lyme disease.

The sooner you spot the signs of Lyme disease, the sooner you can seek the treatment you need.

According to the NHS, a circular or oval-shaped rash around a tick bite is an early symptom of Lyme disease in some people.

This rash usually appears within one to four weeks but it can appear up to three months after being bitten. It can last for several weeks.

“The rash may be flat, or slightly raised, and look pink, red, or purple when it appears on white skin,” the NHS explains.

“It can be harder to see the rash on brown and black skin and it may look like a bruise.”

Other common symptoms include:

  • A high temperature
  • Feeling hot and shivery
  • Headache
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Tiredness and loss of energy.

Some people with Lyme disease can experience severe side effects, which is more likely if treatment is delayed.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention says these can include:

  • Severe headaches and neck stiffness
  • Facial palsy (loss of muscle tone or droop on one or both sides of the face)
  • Arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, particularly the knees and other large joints.
  • Intermittent pain in tendons, muscles, joints, and bones
  • Heart palpitations or an irregular heart beat (Lyme carditis)
  • Episodes of dizziness or shortness of breath
  • Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord
  • Nerve pain
  • Shooting pains, numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet.

To avoid becoming infected in the first place, Lyme Disease UK recommends you:

  • Take effective tick repellent on outdoor trips and a tick removal tool
  • Wearing permethrin-treated outdoor clothing for high-risk activities and occupations
  • Avoid walking through long grass and stick to pathways wherever possible
  • Wear light-coloured clothing, as this will make it easier to spot ticks and brush them off
  • Wear long sleeves and tuck trousers into socks
  • Shower and carry out a thorough tick check on yourself, children, and pets when you get home.

“Remember that ticks can be as small as poppy seeds, so careful checking is key,” the charity adds. “Pay special attention to the hairline and behind the ears of young children.”

To safely remove a tick the NHS advice is:

  • Use fine-tipped tweezers or a tick-removal tool. You can buy these from some pharmacies, vets and pet shops
  • Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible
  • Slowly pull upwards, taking care not to squeeze or crush the tick. Dispose of it when you have removed it
  • Clean the bite with antiseptic or soap and water.



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