An expert has said there will be a spike in cases in the UK which, he warned, could be problematic as there is currently not a vaccine for the condition.
In the USA, public health experts estimate 300,000 Americans contract Lyme disease each year. Public Health England said the disease causes 2,000 to 3,000 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in England and Wales each year.
Howard Carter, a leading bite prevention expert, said: “At the same time as the current US outbreaks, Lyme disease is developing fast in the UK and Europe and the NHS isn’t helping the situation.
“Poor diagnosis and climate change are the main culprits; globally there’s been an explosive growth of ticks (along with many other biting insects), which are also coming out earlier in the year and consequently there is a longer season for them to bite.
“People still don’t understand how you can catch Lyme disease
“300,000 people are registered carriers in the US, so the real figures are more likely to be towards half a million.
“And in the UK Caudwell LymeCo charity and Lyme Disease UK estimate that there could be up to 45,000 new cases of Lyme disease per year in the UK.”
Howard said part of the reason for the hidden epidemic is that Lyme is very hard to diagnose, arguing only ‘a third of people who have contracted Lyme actually present with the classic bulls-eye rash’.
“Symptoms can also be very misleading for doctors; for example, patients can also be diagnosed as having chronic fatigue syndrome, or ME – it can look like many illnesses,” he added.
The expert also said GPs are not asking the right questions to help diagnose patients who could be suffering with lyme disease.
Howard said: “Antibodies to Lyme disease take a few weeks to form – if you have an early test and you’ve got a puncture mark or have removed the tick yourself you can get a false re-assurance, so you really need to wait for six weeks before requesting a blood test.
“If you do test positive for Lyme, a course of antibiotics will stop it dead if caught soon enough.”
He said half of patients who may have the condition will need a blood test to detect the bacteria in the blood.
Howard said: “If it’s caught late it can be very debilitating.
“Initial symptoms can include flu-like symptoms, aches and fever, then later inflammation, short term memory loss, facial palsy, and heart problems.
“But there’s only one tick laboratory you can go to in the UK for a test, at the Rare and Imported Pathogens Laboratory (RIPL), although there are private tests you can take.
“There should certainly be more awareness of this disease which might lead to the NHS funding more than just one lab.”
Howard said people venturing out in high risk areas should:
Put insect repellent on your dog as well as yourself
He said ticks will climb on to any mammal. They crawl up to the top of foliage and wait for a human or dog to walk by so that they can then attach themselves.
It is best to stick to footpaths, but if that is not possible tuck trousers into socks and use a natural insect repellent on skin and again on clothing that could come into contact with the grass.
Get someone to check you after you’ve been out walking
They need to look for ticks and puncture marks. It’s important to check for them in areas like the armpit, groin and scalp.
Ticks are not easy to spot as they are smaller than the size of a pin-head.
It’s very difficult to feel a tick latching onto your skin – however they are easier to spot once they have been feeding for some time and have swollen to the size of a pea. To remove them use a special tick remover as tweezers don’t work as well.
You’ve got be careful taking a tick out – remove gently and hold it so that it is vertically above your skin. The chance of contracting Lyme is far less if you successfully remove the tick without squashing its insides back into your skin.
One of the best preventions is to spray legs and ankles with natural insect repellent contain PMD – which is advised by Public Health England, NHS, National Travel Health Network and Centre, Travax and the CDC Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, such as incognito.”