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Lyme disease: catch it early
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Watch out for ticks this autumn

Date Issued: 23 August 2013


The RFS is urging anyone bitten by a tick to be aware of symptoms which could indicate that they have picked up Lyme disease. RFS Development Director Simon Lloyd says: “The risks of catching Lyme disease remain very small, but people should be aware of symptoms in much the same way that most people know about the dangers of leptospirosis – Weil’s disease – from river waters. It should not deter people from enjoying the countryside and nature, but being aware may prevent later illnesses developing.”

In the UK, Lyme disease is spread by ticks carrying bacteria from the Borrelia family. The ticks can live on woodland plants and on animals including sheep and deer. The disease is also present in Europe and North America. Not all ticks carry the bacteria, but first signs of infection are usually a persistent rash.

Summer is a peak time for infection. While the rate of infection is small in the UK, reported cases are increasing. According to Public Health England: “Since the introduction of enhanced surveillance in 1997, over 6,900 cases have been reported. Mean annual incidence rates for laboratory-confirmed cases have risen from 0.38 per 100,000 total population for the period 1997–2000, to 0.64 in 2002, and to 1.64 cases per 100,000 total population in 2010.”

They also say: “Nearly half of all cases have dates of specimen collection in July, August and September. Most of these probably acquired infection in late spring and early summer, allowing for the time period between being bitten, developing symptoms, and developing levels of antibodies high enough to give positive results in laboratory tests.”

Areas of the UK known to have infected ticks include: the New Forest, Exmoor, other woodland and heathland habitat in southern England, the South Downs, Thetford Forest, North York moors, the Lake District and the Scottish Highlands.

Lyme disease can easily be treated with antibiotics. If left untreated symptoms can including joint ache, extreme fatigue, flu symptoms and can become progressively more serious leading to viral-like meningitis, facial palsy, other nerve damage or arthritis.

This month’s 2013 International Conference on Lyme Borreliosis and Other Tick-Borne Diseasesrevealed that cases of Lyme disease in the USA may be 10 times higher than previously thought.

For more details on Lyme disease, its symptoms and precautions, download the RFS factsheet or see the RFS Information for visitors page.