A woman has revealed how her life has been devastated after she was bitten by a tick.
Now she wants more people to know just how dangerous tick bites can be to humans, as International Lyme Disease Awareness Month begins.
As the Chronicle reports, business woman Emma Dolan Horlock was left bed-ridden and suffering in severe pain after contracting Lyme disease from the insect.
Se has been left so poorly by the tick bite that she has to make the long journey by ship – as she is too ill to fly.
Emma is keen to share her story with as many people as possible to warn others of the dangers, as well as calling for better medical treatment in Britain.
Research in the US suggests that if left undiagnosed a tick bite can be life-altering – and can prove fatal.
Emma says dog owners may have seen posters at their local vets warning them about the dangers of tick bites.
With an estimated 2,000 – 3,000 new cases in England and Wales each year, Lyme disease is one of the fastest growing infections in the UK – and beyond.
However the true number of cases is likely to be much higher due to under-reporting and unreliable testing methods.
Anyone who is bitten by an infected tick could develop Lyme disease.
It says: “People who spend time outdoors in areas where ticks are found are most at risk of developing Lyme disease.
“Most tick bites happen in late spring, early summer and autumn because these are peak feeding periods for ticks and the time of year when most people take part in outdoor activities, such as hiking and camping.
“Lyme disease can be treated effectively with antibiotics if it’s detected early on. But if not treated or treatment is delayed, there’s a risk of developing severe and long-lasting symptoms.”
There have been many high profile cases of the bug over the past few years, including celebrities such as Avril Lavigne, Kelly Osbourne, Alec Baldwin and Ben Stiller.
Earlier this month former EastEnders actress Martine McCutcheon has spoken about contracting Lyme disease. The mum-of-one also suffers from the debilitating condition M.E.
Despite the condition being in the lime light, awareness of the disease among GPs is low and can be difficult to diagnose as it does not always show up in blood tests and the symptoms can be akin to other conditions.
The bug is picked up from ticks carrying the disease and are common in woodland and grassy areas. Rates of infection increase between May and September.
At present there is no vaccine available, so prevention is key to avoid contracting the disease.
What is Lyme Disease and how is it caught?
Lyme disease, also known as Lyme borreliosis is a bacterial infection that is spread to humans via ticks carrying the bacteria.
Ticks are small spider-like insects that are commonly found in woodland and heath areas but are also found in gardens and parks – anywhere with long grasses.
The creatures feed on the blood of birds and mammals – including humans. Lyme disease can also infect dogs, but is extremely rare in cats.
The insects are ground-dwelling and do not jump or fly, so they climb onto a host if they brush past something they are on, such a blade of grass. They then attach themselves onto the host to feed and even water does not remove them.
The tick must be attached for 36-48 hours before the bacteria can spread, so early detection is important to prevent further complications. The risk of Lyme disease transmission increases with the length of time the tick is attached.
Most tick bites occur during spring and summer because this is the time of year when most people take part in outdoor activities.
There is no evidence that people diagnosed with Lyme disease can pass the condition on to others, but there have been questions raised over whether the infection can be sexually transmitted.
What are the symptoms?
According to the NHS website, many people with early-stage Lyme disease develop a distinctive circular rash at the site of the tick bite, usually around three to 30 days after being bitten. This is known as erythema migrans.
This rash is described as looking like a bullseye and the affected area will be red and may feel slightly raised.
Typically it is around 15cm in diameter, although can be larger or smaller. Some people may develop rashes in several places on their body.
However a third of people with Lyme disease will not be marked.
People with early stage symptoms sometimes experience flu-like complaints such as tiredness, muscle pain, headaches, fever and chills.
If the disease is left untreated or is not treated early on, more serious symptoms may develop several weeks, months or even years after the initial bite.
These symptoms can include
● Pain and swelling in the joints – known as inflammatory arthritis
● Problems with the nervous system such as numbness and pain, paralysis of facial muscles, difficulty concentrating and memory loss.
● Heart problems
Some people with disease go on to develop post-infectious Lyme disease which causes symptoms similar to fibromyalgia such as fatigue, difficulty sleeping, problems with memory, headaches and increased sensitivity to pain.
This is likely to be a reaction to overactivity or the immune system rather than the infection.
What you should do if you think you may have Lyme disease?
Although it is thought only a small proportion of ticks carry the diease. it is important to seek medical advice from your GP if you are bitten and begin to feel unwell.
If you are bitten by a tick and start to develop symptoms, a GP will usually prescribe a course of antibiotics. Early stages of Lyme disease can be treated very effectively with antibiotics, but those with late onset symptoms may require a much longer course of treatment, often from specialists to address any complications.
The infection is usually diagnosed by a blood test, however these can give a false negative in the early stage. You may need to be re-tested if Lyme disease is still suspected after a negative test result.
How to safely remove a tick
The NHS has specific advice when it comes to removing a tick:
● If you find a tick on your or your child’s skin, remove it by gently gripping it as close to the skin as possible.
● Use a pair of tweezers that won’t squash the tick (such as fine-tipped tweezers), or use a tick removal tool (available from pet shops or vets).
● Pull steadily away from the skin without twisting or crushing the tick.
● Wash your skin with water and soap afterwards, and apply an antiseptic cream to the skin around the bite.
● Don’t use a lit cigarette end, a match head or substances such as alcohol or petroleum jelly to force the tick out.
● Some veterinary surgeries and pet shops sell inexpensive tick removal devices, which may be useful if you frequently spend time in areas where there are ticks.
How to prevent Lyme disease
As there is no vaccine available to prevent Lyme disease, awareness is paramount when it comes to prevention.
There a precautions that you can take to reduce the risk of infection if you are visiting woodlands or grassy areas where ticks are commonly found:
● Wear appropriate long clothing that covers the skin – consider tucking trousers into socks
● Keep to footpaths and avoid long grass
● Wear light colours so it is easier to spot a tick on your clothes
● Use insect repellent on exposed skin
● Inspect the skin for ticks – particularly at the end of the day. Be sure to check the head, neck, armpits, groin and waistband.
● Check children’s head and neck area thoroughly – including the scalp
● Check pets for ticks
● Make sure no ticks are brought into the home on clothing.