Summer is here so time to protect against Lyme disease

Advice from HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) on #LymeDiseaseAwarenessDay

Today (Tuesday, 1st May 2018) is Lyme Disease Awareness Day, and the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HSPC) has some practical advice on how to protect yourself against the disease.

Now that summer is finally here, people who take part in outdoor pursuits need to protect themselves against Lyme disease, which is spread by tick bites says specialist in Public Health Medicine at the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), Dr Paul McKeown. “Preventing Lyme disease depends on preventing tick bites.”

Although the great majority of cases of Lyme disease are very mild (in fact, some people may not even know they have been infected) resulting in a skin rash; in a small number of cases however, the infection can be more severe, leading to serious nervous system, heart and joint disease, said Dr McKeown.

“People are more likely to engage in outdoor pursuits in the spring and summer months, ramblers, campers, mountain bikers, and others who work, enjoy and walk in woodland, parkland and heathland, especially in grassy areas should protect themselves against tick bites.

“Ticks are tiny spider-like creatures that feed on the blood of mammals, birds and humans. Ticks are more numerous and more active in the summer months and protecting against tick bites protects against Lyme disease.   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, parkland and heathland with grass,
  • Open fields and bushes (can vary depending on the tick).

They are present everywhere in Ireland, including both urban and rural areas and are active from spring to autumn.  From April onwards is the time when we expect to see cases of Lyme disease most frequently in Ireland.

Tick bites can be prevented by:

  • Wearing long trousers, long sleeved shirt and shoes
  • Wearing a hat and tuck in hair
  • Using an insect repellent (preferably containing DEET)
  • Checking skin, hair and warm skin folds (especially the neck and scalp of children) for ticks, after a day out
  • Removing any ticks and consulting with a GP if symptoms develop

“Only a minority of ticks carry infection. If a tick is removed within the first few hours, the risk of infection is low. The entire tick, including any mouthparts which might break off, should be removed with a tweezers by gripping it close to the skin. The skin where the tick was found should then be washed with soap and water and the area checked over the next few weeks for swelling or redness. Anyone who develops a rash or other symptoms should visit their GP and explain that they have been bitten by a tick.  You can see instructions on how to remove a tick on the HPSC’s website.

 If you think you may have been bitten by a tick and you develop a skin rash (the skin rash diagnostic of Lyme disease is the erythema migrans rash), speak to your GP – they may prescribe antibiotics if it is likely to be Lyme disease, which will clear the infection.

 “Cases of a more severe form of Lyme disease - neuroborreliosis - have to be reported to the HPSC by doctors and laboratories in Ireland.  There are approximately 10-20 cases of neuroborreliosis notified in Ireland each year. However as some people will not be aware that they are infected or will not seek medical help when unwell, the true incidence of Lyme disease is not known. It is likely that there are at least 100-200 cases of the milder forms of Lyme disease in Ireland annually. People can find lots of information and resources on the HPSC website” added Dr McKeown.

Last updated on: 01 / 05 / 2018