Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is spread to human by infected ticks. Ticks are small, spider-shaped creatures that feed on the blood of mammals, including humans.
The most common symptom of Lyme disease is a red skin rash that looks similar to a bull's eye on a dart board. However, if Lyme disease is left untreated, further symptoms can follow including:
- a high temperature (fever) of 38ºC (100.4ºF) or higher
- muscle pain
- joint pain and swelling
- neurological symptoms, such as temporary paralysis of the facial muscles
A person with Lyme disease cannot spread disease to another through normal social contact.
How common is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is not a common infection. It is estimated that there are between 50 and 100 cases in Ireland each year.
The ticks that cause Lyme disease are commonly found in woodland and heathland areas. This is because these types of habitats have a high number of tick-carrying animals, such as deer, mice and sheep.
Due to their breeding patterns, the tick population is highest in late spring and early summer.
Ticks can also be found in rural areas in many other countries, including:
There is a widely held misconception that the outlook for Lyme disease is poor and that the condition cannot be treated. This is not the case.
If Lyme disease is diagnosed in its early stages, it can be treated with antibiotics, and the outlook for the condition is excellent. Most people will make a full recovery within a couple of days.
Even if more serious symptoms develop, they can usually be cured with antibiotics, although a longer course will be required.
A vaccine for Lyme disease was introduced in 1998, but it has since been withdrawn by the manufacturer due to controversies over alleged side effects.
The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to take sensible precautions when you are in areas that are known to have a high tick population, such as wearing long-sleeved shirts, and using insect repellent. See the Lyme disease - prevention section for more information.