The HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre today (Monday ) urged people who take part in outdoor pursuits to protect themselves against Lyme disease, which is spread by tick bites. Lyme disease can, in a minority of cases, cause severe debilitating heart and nervous system disease.
As people are more likely to engage in outdoor pursuits in the summer months, ramblers, campers, mountain bikers, and others who work and walk in forested or grassy areas must be vigilant against tick bites, says HPSC specialist in public health medicine, Dr Paul McKeown.
“Ticks are tiny insect like creatures that feed on the blood of mammals and birds and will also feed on humans and occasionally dogs. Ticks are more numerous and more active in the summer months and protecting against tick bites protects against Lyme disease.
“Tick bites can be prevented by:
· Wearing long trousers, long sleeved shirt and shoes
· Using an insect repellent
· Checking skin, hair and warm skin folds (especially the neck and scalp of children) for ticks, after a day out
· Removing any ticks and consulting with a GP if symptoms develop
· If you have been walking your dog, check him/her too
“ If you find a tick, remove it – consult your GP if symptoms develop . Only a minority of ticks carry infection. Ticks generally have to be attached to a person for a number of hours before passing on the infection, so rapid removal of ticks is important. If a tick is removed within a few hours, the risk of infection is low. The entire tick, including any mouthparts which might break off, should be removed with a tweezers by gripping it close to the skin. The skin where the tick was found should then be washed with soap and water and the area checked over the next few weeks for swelling or redness.
“When infected many people have no symptoms at all. In Europe, between 5% and 25% of the population (depending on which country you are in) have antibodies in their blood to Lyme disease , meaning they have been bitten by an infected tick at some stage in their lives. The commonest feature is a rash, which occurs in about three-quarters of patients. This rash generally develops between 3 days and a month after a tick bite. It can last up to a month and be several inches in diameter. People can also complain of flu-like symptoms such as headache, sore throat, neck stiffness, fever, muscle aches and general fatigue.
Occasionally, there may be much more serious complications involving the nervous system, joints, the heart or other tissues. Anyone who develops a rash or other symptoms should visit their GP and explain that they have been bitten by a tick. Lyme disease is diagnosed by medical history and physical examination. Diagnosis can be difficult if there has been no rash. The infection is confirmed by special blood tests.
“Lyme disease has been notifiable in Ireland since 2012 and there are between 8-13 cases notified in Ireland each year. However as some people will not be aware that they are infected or will not seek medical help when unwell the true incidence of Lyme disease is not known. It is likely that there are at least 50 -100 cases in Ireland every year,” added Dr McKeown.
Further important information to protect against Lyme disease is available on the HPSC website http://www.hpsc.ie/A-Z/Vectorborne/LymeDisease/
HSE National Press Office
Dr. Steeven’s Hospital
Tel: 01- 635 2840
Email: [email protected]