Travel health: Lyme Disease
Typical bulls-eye rash pattern indicating Lyme Disease seen on up to 70% of patients, not all!
Lyme Disease is a problem for an increasing number of walkers in wooded areas, especially in northern parts of the northern hemisphere in summertime. This is caused by infected ticks that look like very small spiders. Ticks mainly feed on animals such as deer (UK) and chipmunks/squirrels (US) but will take humans if nothing four-legged is around.
This should be treated immediately with antibiotics if a rash (that often looks like a circular bruise) is noticed as it can cause life-changing neurological damage and chronic fatigue if untreated. In rare cases it can be fatal.
Lyme disease patients who are diagnosed early, and receive proper antibiotic treatment, usually recover rapidly and completely. A key component of early diagnosis is recognition of the characteristic Lyme disease rash that often manifests itself in a bull’s-eye appearance, and is observed in about 80% of Lyme disease patients.
Some British sufferers were not diagnosed by the NHS and their condition only discovered by private health checks in other countries such as USA and Norway. Others are still out there suffering tiredness, muscle aches, pain in the joints, paralysis of facial muscles, mental confusion and heart problems.
The most common symptom – but only on 70% of sufferers – is a slowly expanding rash/bruise which spreads out from a tick bite, usually in 5 to 14 days.
Other symptoms include fever, headaches and fatigue and without a visible marking are frequently mis-diagnosed leading to years of grief.
However it is not necessary to avoid the countryside to avoid ticks, just cover up exposed skin (no bare legs or arms! ) when walking in long grass, dense shrubs or undergrowth.
Other tick-borne diseases in US: Colorado tick fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever
Tick bites are usually harmless tho’ you may be allergic to tick bites and experience pain or swelling, a rash or burning sensation in the bite zone.
However, some ticks carry diseases that develop within several days to a few weeks after a bite. Symptoms may include:
- a red spot or rash near the bite site
- a full body rash
- muscle or joint pain
- a fever
Tick bites easy to identify as the tick may remain attached for up to ten days and are isolated.
Don’t forget that you may have a tick still hidden on your body tho’ they usually fatten up and fall off within 10 days. If not they could be lurking in damp, protected areas such as your armpit, or pubic hair.
Typical Lyme Disease carrying ticks. Photo courtesy of California Department of Health.
One bite protection expert visited 75 per cent of the parks in London, England (including Richmond Park and Bushy Park) in 2015 and found ticks in every one.
Walkers in cool, green, lush/woody areas should:
• wear long sleeves and long trousers, light-coloured clothing and proper footwear (not flip-flops!).
• walk in the centre of trails.
• apply tick repellant that’s minimum 20 percent DEET.
• apply permethrin repellent to clothing.
• take a shower or bath within a few hours of ending the walk and check skin especially under arms, behind ears, between legs, behind knees, and in hair.
It usually takes a disease-carrying tick (not all of them do) at least 24 hrs to infect a victim so find and remove asap.
If you find a tick on you remove it as soon as possible with a set of tweezers or dedicated tick-remover device. Don’t squash it or try to pull it off with fingers, unless you have latex gloves available. With tweezers grab it near to your skin and pull steadily straight up, away from the skin. Do not to bend or twist the tick to prevent leaving body parts behind. Check for any tick remnants and remove those too. Then clean the bite site with soap and water.
Kill the tick – with alcohol? – and take it to a doctor to see if treatment is necessary.