Spot Lyme in time...
Until recently, Lyme disease was relatively unknown but numbers of confirmed cases have quadrupled in the past 12 years, according to NHS statistics. Now this tick-borne bacterial infection, which can cause long-term disabilities affecting the whole body including eyes, joints, heart and brain, is much in the news. In the US, celebrity sufferers who include Selena Gomez, Avril Lavigne, Ben Stiller and Richard Gere have spoken out about the illness’s debilitating symptoms. In this country John Caudwell, founder of Phones 4U, revealed that he, his ex-wife and three of his children had all tested positive for Lyme borreliosis.
John has hypothesised that the illness could be congenital and/or transmitted between humans but, according to the charity Lyme Disease Action, ‘studies have failed to demonstrate transmission by anything other than ticks. While there is a theoretical possibility of person-to person-transmission (sexually, via the placenta in pregnancy, or by breastfeeding; also through organ donation or blood transfusion), it remains unproven scientifically.’ Experts say that it is more likely family members are exposed to infected ticks at the same time.
In a recent debate, the House of Lords acknowledged the complexity of the disease, the need for more research, and the lack of awareness of Lyme disease among the medical profession. In a worrying development, a new antibiotic-resistant tick-borne illness similar to Lyme disease but as yet unnamed has infected a small number of people in the US, but not the UK so far. The anxiety is that this could further confuse diagnosis.
Infected ticks are carried by small animals including grey squirrels, badgers, deer and sheep and can be found in towns as well as the countryside, wherever there is long grass or overgrown vegetation.
Patients who are diagnosed early and treated with antibiotics can make a quick and complete recovery. However, many suffer the chronic effects of Lyme disease for years before having a confirmed diagnosis; some patients have been told that the problem is all in their mind and referred to psychologists.
Ally Hilfiger, 30, daughter of fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger, said that Lyme disease left her living ‘like an 80-year-old woman’ after doctors failed to diagnose the disease for 14 years.
To help raise awareness among health professionals, Lyme Disease Action has developed an online training module for the Royal College of General Practitioners. ‘Readers could print off the flyer on our website and give it to their local surgery or pharmacist,’ says charity chair Stella Huyshe-Shires.
For more information and tips on how to protect yourself and your family visit Lyme Disease Action’s website, www.lymediseaseaction.org.uk.
HOW TO SPOT LYME DISEASE
The following symptoms develop two to 30 days after being bitten:
• Flu-like aching, fever, headache and sweating
• Joint pain
• Light and sound sensitivity
• Skin tingling, numbness or itching
• A roughly circular red rash (erythema migraines) affects two in three patients
• Facial palsy in children with headache and fever may predict Lyme disease during the peak season from April to October
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TOPICAL PAIN RELIEVERS
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