Lyme disease quick facts

DISCLAIMER: Caudwell LymeCo charity shares public domain  information, which it believes to be reliable, in good faith. It should never replace the advice of a qualified physician with a license to practise medicine. If you believe any information on this website to be incorrect, you are invited to contact the charity using the Contact page.

1) Lyme disease is caused by a corkscrew-shaped bacteria called Borrelia. There are different strains of the bacteria, including Borrelia burgdorferi, Borrelia afzelii and – believed to be the commonest one in Britain – Borrelia garinii. 


2) Borrelia is known to be transmitted through the bite of an infected tick. Some research reports it may be spread congenitally from infected mother to baby, and through blood transfusions, but more research is needed to clarify the likelihood of this risk. You cannot catch Lyme disease through normal social contact with infected people.

3) Ticks are found wherever there are animals for them to feed on. This means they are in city parks and urban gardens as well as open countryside. They climb to the tops of long grass or other plants, usually close to knee-height, ready to catch hold of a passing warm-blooded creature. You can get bitten by a tick in plants, even if you don’t see any animals near you.

4) Dog and cat owners who stay alert often find ticks on their pets, and they can easily be brought into the house. Nymph ticks can be as small as a poppy seed and are very hard to spot. They live for long periods of time without feeding, which means they can easily linger in houses or on the lawn in the garden, and remain dangerous. Check your pet regularly, buy a proper tick remover and follow the instructions that come with it.

5) Beware of many videos and websites online which give INCORRECT instructions on tick removal. This could greatly increase the risk of infecting your pet or yourself with Lyme disease if bitten. This video demonstrates safe tick removal:

6) The first symptoms of Lyme disease are often similar to flu, with fevers, night sweats, extreme tiredness, swollen glands, muscle and joint pain, nausea, a stiff neck and headaches. If left untreated, the disease can attack the whole body including the nervous system, the brain, the heart and the joints. The commonest cause of death from Lyme disease is cardiac arrest, according to the American Centre for Disease Control. It can also cause paralysis in some parts of the body, blindness or mental illness.

7) A reddish rash which spreads out and may have a central clearing of rings (called erythema migrans) is diagnostic of Lyme disease. This means a blood test is not required if the rash is present, and antibiotic treatment should therefore be given without delay, to maximise the chances of complete cure.

8) Not everyone with Lyme disease gets a rash; the disease is often invisible. NHS guidelines say a third of Lyme patients never have the rash, but some clinics in Europe and America claim that 90% of their patients never have the rash.

9) Blood tests for Lyme disease are not very reliable. Because of their fairly low sensitivity, a physician’s ability to make a clinical diagnosis – in other words, based on symptoms – is important.

10) Lyme disease should be treated with antibiotics, ideally within six weeks of being infected. There is much debate over how to treat patients who are diagnosed later than this. Some doctors and some patients say that standard courses of antibiotics (2 to 4 weeks) do not cure Lyme disease if diagnosis is delayed. There is a lack of reliable evidence on this issue. 

11) Lyme disease can mimic many different illnesses including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, ME, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, autism (in young children), fibromyalgia and depression. This makes it difficult for doctors to be sure about which patients have Lyme disease and which have other illnesses. Research is needed to determine whether a borrelia infection plays any role in these illnesses.

12) Some people in the UK could have Lyme disease without even knowing it. In a survey by Caudwell Lyme Disease, over 50% of patients with Lyme disease were ill for two years or more before being diagnosed with Lyme disease.