Media Centre: Lyme disease key facts

Lyme disease is a complex illness and there is conflicting information reported in the media.

The red hyperlinks to more information take you to pages with links to the original sources of the information on this page.

Bacterial infection

Lyme disease is caused by a corkscrew-shaped bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, of which there are around 20 known strains.

Spread by ticks and possibly other routes

Lyme disease is transmitted through the bite of an infected tick. Lyme disease may also be passed on congenitally from an infected mother to her baby, and possibly through blood transfusions. It is not known if it can be sexually transmitted. You cannot catch Lyme disease through normal social contact with infected people.
MORE INFORMATION: Lyme disease in pregnancy

Rapidly increasing across Europe

Lyme disease is the fastest spreading, and the most common, vector borne disease in Europe, according to the World Health Organisation. (“Vector borne” means that it is spread from human to human by a biting animal). Lyme disease has been increasing in Europe at 14% a year for the last 20 years, faster than AIDS, Malaria and Measles (SOURCE: World health Organisation)

Confirmed cases of Lyme disease in England and Wales almost quadrupled in the ten year period between 2001 and 2011 (SOURCE: NHS Choices). In the UK, about 3,000 people a year are estimated by Public Health England to catch Lyme disease, but actual statistics are not recorded and this may be an underestimate (SOURCE: Public Health England).
MORE INFORMATION: How fast is Lyme disease spreading

Can be caught in any part of Britain

Ticks are found throughout the UK, in wild countryside and in tidy parks and gardens. Ticks feed on small mammals including mice and squirrels, which infect them with Lyme disease that they can pass on to humans.

Ticks are active all summer, usually from May onwards.
DOWNLOAD: Basic Lyme disease prevention steps

You can’t feel a tick bite

You cannot feel a tick bite, so examine your body after going outside. Nymph ticks (most likely to bite humans) are the size of a poppy seed.

Ticks must be removed immediately. The risk of Lyme disease increases if they remain attached too long.  Remove the tick without squeezing its body. Tick removers are ideal but use long fingernails if you don’t have one.

Check pets regularly.
DOWNLOAD: If you notice an attached tick

Symptoms take up to 3 months to develop

Symptoms of Lyme disease start 3 days to 3 months after a tick bite. This means a tick bite at the end of summer could give you symptoms at Christmas.

Common symptoms include

  • flu-like symptoms (fever, malaise, swollen glands)
  • An expanding rash with red rings that looks like a target (called erythema migrans)
  • severe memory loss, tingling, numbness or pain usually in the extremities
  • abnormal hearing or eyesight
  • headaches and neck pain
  • joint and/or muscle pain

Rarer symptoms include

  • facial paralysis often on one side only
  • irregular heart beat which can be fatal
  • psychosis.

Lyme disease symptoms are very varied, and the majority of them can be caused by many other diseases too. This means the illness can be difficult for doctors to recognise. Some patients wait a long time before their Lyme disease is diagnosed.
MORE INFORMATION: Lyme disease symptoms

Blood tests for Lyme disease can sometimes be wrong

Blood tests for Lyme disease are not highly reliable. The NHS uses two tests together to diagnose Lyme disease, and there can be false positive results and also false negative results.

So far no other test has been independently evaluated for accuracy and found to be more reliable, although some alternative tests show promise.
MORE INFORMATION: Lyme disease testing on the NHS

Treatment for Lyme disease doesn’t cure everyone

The evidence says standard antibiotic treatment cures over 50% of patients, but a large percentage do have persisting symptoms. This may be because the antibiotics have not been sufficient to kill the bacteria; because damaged body tissues need a long time to heal after treatment; because some tissue has suffered permanent damage; or because the Lyme disease has caused another condition such as an autoimmune disease.

Some UK patients with persistent symptoms after Lyme disease feel dissatisfied with the nature and level of ongoing care they receive from the NHS.
MORE INFORMATION: Persisting symptoms in Lyme disease

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.

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