Today’s columnist, Dr Mary Wren: Truth about Lyme disease

Laura Brown with Lyme Disease
Laura Brown with Lyme Disease
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Lyme disease has featured a lot in the press recently. It is a bacterial infection spread to humans by infected ticks.

Ticks are tiny creatures a bit like spiders, found in woodland and park areas.

They feed on the blood of infected animals and then pass it on to humans when they settle on the skin.

Ticks that carry the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease are found throughout the UK as well as in parts of Europe and North America.

To get Lyme disease you need to be bitten by a tick, and the longer the tick is attached the more the risk.

So one of the most important things is to prevent bites and remove ticks quickly, if you find them attached.

Public Health England give some good advice including things like keeping to footpaths, cover your skin, use insect repellent and check for ticks at the end of the day… maybe have a “tick buddy” who checks for you.

If you have been bitten, remove the tick as soon as possible using tweezers or a “tick removing tool”.

Grasp the tick near the skin and pull upwards. Then wash the area or put antiseptic cream on.

If you develop a rash around the bite that looks like a bullseye, then this can be a sign of Lyme disease – so see your doctor.

Treatment at this stage is easy, with antibiotics.

Blood tests can be done but aren’t 100 per cent accurate and can be negative, especially early on.

There have been stories in the media about people having years of symptoms which turned out to be Lyme disease that hadn’t been treated.

In the UK, there has been slow recognition that a small number of Lyme disease patients do develop long-term symptoms, especially if there has been a delay in treating the infection. It is still not clear how best to treat them.

One of the problems is that symptoms are vague and could be many things.

Some doctors worry that people could end up paying a lot of money for unproven therapies, out of fear they have Lyme disease.

In May, a study in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases found more than 30 unproven alternative treatments for chronic Lyme disease available on the internet.

These included oxygen therapy, radiation therapy and stem cell transplants. So we need wisdom.

See your doctor if you are worried about a bite. And don’t presume that every advert is true.