Farmer with Lyme disease: 'My workload had to halve'

Edwin Symes: 'I have met loads of people in farming who have the disease'.
Edwin Symes: 'I have met loads of people in farming who have the disease'.
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

A farmer whose whole life changed forever when he was bitten by a tick that caused him to catch Lyme disease has warned the farming community that they are the most vulnerable to suffer from the dangerous infection.

Edwin Symes, who rears 120 cattle and 400 sheep outside Wicklow town, says that he was bitten by a tick on a forestry plantation he owns in Scartaglen, Co Kerry in 2014 and that the side-effects of the disease impacted his body immediately.

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"I noticed the bite and the symptoms occurred straight away. I got compulsive night sweats, pains in all my joints and neck and then neurological affects came in. I just wasn't myself."

Although Mr Symes wasn't diagnosed in Ireland, he later travelled to Germany where he was diagnosed with Lyme disease.

"I've been to every consultant through the country, nobody ever mentioned Lyme, but I knew in my heart it was Lyme."

Mr Symes is undergoing regular infusion treatment and is finding herbal therapy helpful but says that he will "probably never be back to himself" and has had to change his farming system as a result of the bite.

"I'd a herd of 80 suckler cows and 450 ewes but I had to turn that whole system around when I became ill. I don't lamb anymore or calve. It's all drystock now. I buy lambs in and keep them and sell them off as hoggets.

"My workload has had to halve. It's had a huge impact on my farming life. I get on with it."

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Edwin adds that there are lots of issues with misdiagnosis in Ireland and warned farmers to be aware of the disease as they are most vulnerable to it because they spend the majority of their time outside.

"I've met lots of people throughout the farming community who have the disease not to mention foresters and hill walkers. They are all so vulnerable. I hope the disease starts to get better recognition as a lot of people feel they are being ignored."

Dr. Jack Lambert, a consultant in infectious diseases at the Mater Hospital told an Oireachtas Committee recently that farmers pick ticks off animals every day and pet owners pick ticks off their dogs every day.

"Every farmer and forestry worker in Ireland knows their animals are bitten by ticks and become sick with a variety of bacteria.

"The sick animals suffer from tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease, Borrelia, Anaplasma, Rickettsial infections and Babesia, which causes red water disease in cattle," he said.

He explained that the HSE's Health Protection Surveillance Centre, HPSC, website describes Lyme disease, a tick-borne infection, as a rare disease in humans in Ireland, with ten cases reported annually, and it estimates there are 100 cases nationally.

"However, a study from the blood bank in 1991 showed 9.75% of blood donors were positive for the Lyme disease antibody. This is not ten cases a year. An antibody means exposure or active infection.

"This means almost 10% of over 4 million people, which is 400,000, have had a tick bite.

"It is not a rare disease," he said.

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