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NHS Choices Condition

Content supplied by NHS Choices

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is spread to human by infected ticks. Ticks are small, spider-shaped insects that feed on the blood of mammals, including humans.

The most common symptom of Lyme disease is a red skin rash that looks similar to a bull’s eye on a dart board. However, if Lyme disease is left untreated, further symptoms can follow including:

  • a high temperature (fever) of 38ºC (100.4ºF) or higher
  • muscle pain
  • joint pain and swelling
  • neurological symptoms, such as temporary paralysis of the facial muscles

A person with Lyme disease is not contagious because the infection can only be spread by the ticks.

How common is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is an uncommon infection. The Health Protection Agency (HPA) estimates that there are 1,000-2,000 cases of Lyme disease in the UK each year.

The ticks that cause Lyme disease are commonly found in woodland and heathland areas. This is because these types of habitats have a high number of tick-carrying animals, such as deer and mice. Parts of the UK that are known to have a particularly high population of ticks include:

  • Exmoor
  • the New Forest in Hampshire
  • the South Downs
  • parts of Wiltshire and Berkshire
  • Thetford Forest in Norfolk
  • the Lake District
  • the Yorkshire Moors
  • the Scottish Highlands

Due to their breeding patterns, the tick population is highest in late spring and early summer.

Ticks can also be found in rural areas in many other countries, including:

  • France
  • Germany
  • USA
  • Austria
  • Sweden
  • Russia

Outlook

There is a widely held misconception that the outlook for Lyme disease is poor and that the condition cannot be treated. This is not the case.

If Lyme disease is diagnosed in its early stages, it can be treated with antibiotics, and the outlook for the condition is excellent. Most people will make a full recovery within a couple of days.

Even if more serious symptoms develop, they can usually be cured with antibiotics, although a longer course will be required.

A vaccine for Lyme disease was introduced in 1998, but it has since been withdrawn by the manufacturer due to controversies over alleged side effects.

The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to take sensible precautions when you are in areas that are known to have a high tick population, such as wearing long-sleeved shirts, and using insect repellent. See the Lyme disease - prevention section for more information.

view information about Lyme Disease on www.nhs.co.uk »

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