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.

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

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

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). The WHO reports that Lyme disease has been spreading in Europe at 14% a year for the last 20 years, faster than AIDS, Malaria and Measles. 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. Confirmed cases of Lyme disease in England and Wales almost quadrupled in the ten year period between 2001 and 2011.
MORE INFORMATION: How fast is Lyme disease spreading

Ticks are found in long grass or plants wherever there are animals for them to feed on, usually small mammals including mice and squirrels. They live in city parks and urban gardens as well as open countryside.
DOWNLOAD: Basic Lyme disease prevention steps

You cannot feel a tick bite, so you have to examine your body after going to places where ticks may be. Nymph ticks are the most likely to bite humans, and are about the size of a poppy seed. Tick removers should be used to remove attached ticks promptly and correctly. Pets should be checked regularly. Ticks easily live for long periods of time without feeding, and can remain a threat in houses or gardens.
DOWNLOAD: If you notice an attached tick

The earliest symptoms of Lyme disease start 3 days to 3 months after a tick bite. They sometimes resemble flu. In many but not all cases there is a rash unique to Lyme disease, called Erythema Migrans. Other common indications of Lyme disease include neurological issues such as severe memory loss, tingling, numbness or pain usually in the extremities, and abnormal hearing or eyesight; headaches and neck pain; joint and muscle pain. Less common symptoms include facial paralysis on one side, heart arrhythmia which can be fatal, and 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, and as a result many patients may wait a long time before their Lyme disease is diagnosed.
MORE INFORMATION: Lyme disease symptoms

Blood tests for Lyme disease are not very reliable. The reliability of the two-tier test used by the NHS is not proven to be very high, and so far no other test has been fully and independently evaluated for accuracy, although some alternative tests show promise.
MORE INFORMATION: Lyme disease testing on the NHS

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. Many 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.