THIS summer has seen an increase in the number of cases of potentially serious Lyme disease, which is spread by the bite of an infected tick.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) South confirmed that there had been cases of Lyme disease in people in the Cork and Kerry region.
However, as it is not a notifiable disease, it was not possible to say with accuracy how many cases there were, it said.
The disease is caused by a bacterium which is spread by the bite of a tick.
The tiny spider-like insects feed on the blood of small animals. They are usually found close to the ground, especially in moist, shaded areas, such as woodland, moorland and other grassy areas.
The HSE advised ramblers and others involved in countryside pursuits to wear protective clothing and use insect repellents. Ticks should be removed quickly, while early diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease was important, the HSE said. It said that leaflets have been distributed to visitor centres of the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
According to experts, Lyme disease is a diagnosis that is often overlooked by doctors.
However, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre recently moved to increase awareness, publishing a leaflet advising the public on how to protect themselves against ticks bites and Lyme disease.
Specialist in public health medicine Dr Paul McKeown said that the leaflet would be particularly useful for ramblers, campers, mountainbikers and people who work and walk in forested or grassy areas.
However he stressed that the risk of contracting Lyme disease is low.
The HPSC information leaflet estimated that there are between 50 to 100 cases of Lyme disease in Ireland each year.
The first symptom is a rash that can appear three to 30 days after the tick bite. It starts as a small red dot at the bite site but may grow larger with time.
The centre of the spot often fades creating a characteristic "bulls-eye" appearance. It is generally a mild disease, affecting only the skin.
However, occasionally, a severe form can develop and the heart, joints or the nervous system can be affected.
The disease is treated using antibiotics, and treatment lasts generally for up to three weeks.
The advice is if bitten by a tick, don't panic. Only a small minority carry the infection, and those that do generally need to be attached to the skin for at least 24 hours before infection occurs.