Tick bite Lyme Disease cases under-reported

Cases of bacterial infection that can lead to severe mental and physical problems could be much higher than previously thought, according to a new report.

The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence says the 3,000 cases of Lyme Disease are reported in the UK each year could be an underestimate, as many people go undiagnosed.

Spread through the bites of small parasites called ticks, its symptoms can be mild at first, but the long-term effects can be devastating.

Sophie Ward from Lancashire knows that all too well. Back in 2008, the then-champion GB youth swimmer enjoyed a family trip to Beijing to watch the Olympics.

Image: Sophie Ward believes she contracted Lyme Disease in China in 2008

But after a visit to a Chinese nature reserve, during which she cuddled a panda, Sophie began experiencing the migraines, muscle pains, infections and food intolerances that have plagued her ever since.

Only now, ten years later have doctors finally diagnosed the 24-year-old with Lyme Disease – probably given to her by a tick on the panda.

Sophie has had chronic symptoms for ten years
Image: Sophie has had chronic symptoms for ten years

"One day you're way up and the next minute you can't get out of bed and you're bedridden," Sophie told Sky News.

"And it makes it very difficult to live. You can't make plans. Social events, activities have to be scaled down to a couple of hours coz they tire you out so quickly.

And at 24, you know, you think I can travel the world, I should be going out partying, and you can't hack it."

Lyme Disease can be hard to spot, since its symptoms are so varied. One of the most common is a pink or red circular 'bull's eye' rash around the bite area – but fewer than half of those affected will get one.

The bull's-eye rash is a symptom but does not always show
Image: The bull's-eye rash is a symptom but does not always show

Other characteristics such as a high temperature, feeling hot and shivery and tiredness can be misdiagnosed as other conditions such as flu.

Dr Jack Lambert is Professor of Infectious Diseases at University College Dublin and says tick borne infections are "very common" in the UK and Ireland but despite that, are still perceived of as rare.

"We need better research, but we need better clinical management, we need better education in GP practices for early identification and prevention and early treatment," he says.

"That way the patients won't develop chronic conditions and there's lots of people out there with chronic conditions. I think we have to have better education of specialists and GPs that the tests are imperfect."

Lyme Disease can also affect dogs as well as humans, giving them fever and swollen joints.

The largest UK survey of ticks and tick-borne diseases, the Big Tick Project, looked at more than 12,000 dogs and found that around a third of them were carrying a tick.

Dogs are highly susceptible to the disease
Image: Dogs are highly susceptible to the disease

But despite that, in a national survey, 47% of dog owners didn't know that ticks can spread disease to both dogs and humans.

"Check over your dog every day, especially if you've taken them into an area where you know there are ticks around," says vet James Greenwood.

"So checking over their fur, looking between their paws, around their ears, that's the first thing to do. And if you do find a tick, the key thing to do is to remove it safely and effectively.

"The key is not to pull the tick, you must always use a tool called a tick hook.

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"They're kind of like forks you can slide underneath the tick head. You just gently turn the tick and pull it away from the skin."

Experts say you should take extra care to check for ticks after walking in long grass or wooded areas, even in urban parks and gardens.

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