independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Don't get ticked off this summer

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It's the hidden menace which could end up ruining your summer. Doctors want people who enjoy the great outdoors to be more aware of the threat of Lyme disease caused by blood-sucking ticks.

These ticks are small, spider-like insects living in grass and trees and they love these months as the weather gets warmer.

Walkers, campers and certain occupational groups such as forestry staff, conservation workers, deer cullers and farmers are at particular risk of exposure, said Dr Paul McKeown and Dr Patricia Garvey, infectious disease specialists.

"Ticks walk on the ground and climb plants. They latch on to a passing animal or people by using hooks on their legs. Their preferred habitats are shady and humid woodland, clearings with grass or open fields and bushes."

There are around 50 to 100 people diagnosed with Lyme disease annually and last year 10 Irish people who were bitten by the tick were found to have developed neuroborreliosis which affects the central nervous system.

The early signs of Lyme disease include a circular red "bull's-eye"' rash at the site of the bite and flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, fever, headaches and a stiff neck.

If it goes untreated the person can suffer muscle and joint pain, disturbances of co-ordination as well as problems with their hearing, sight, digestive system and sleep. It can also cause heart problems or disturb the central nervous system.

The difficulty for many is that they do not notice the tick bite or spot the rash while mistaking symptoms for other conditions.

The treatment involves antibiotic tablets or capsules and the patient will need a two to four-week course depending on the stage of the disease.

If the symptoms are severe and include arthritis or neurological conditions the antibiotics must be given by injection and this is necessary at mid to late-stage of the disease.

"The ticks are prevalent in Ireland, and Irish people love to get into the countryside.

"This places them (and their pet dogs) at risk of being bitten. Dogs can carry ticks home and they can then go on to bite family members even those who were not outside," said the medics.

GPs who see a patient with particular symptoms should ask them if they have been out and about and if they can recall a tick bite.

Irish Independent

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