Ticks capable of transmitting Lyme disease may be more common in the UK than first thought, according to experts from Bristol University.
Although it has been long suspected that the number of ticks have been increasing, with rates of Lyme disease slowly on the increase in recent years, researchers now believe the problem has actually been underestimated.
The research involved over 3,500 dog health checks at veterinary clinics throughout the UK, between March and October 2009. Of the dogs inspected, 14.9% were found to have ticks – with the prevalence of infected ticks expected to be 0.5%.
This suggests that the total number of ticks with Borrelia burgorferi (the bacteria known to cause Lyme disease) in the UK is considerably higher than previously estimated.
Faith Smith, who led the research published in the journal Comparative Immunology, Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, said:
“Lyme disease appears to be a growing problem in the UK which could lead to both health and economic impacts. Without improving surveillance and routine diagnostic testing, Lyme disease is likely to become more prevalent.
“Warmer winters may also extend the ticks active season, while growing wild host populations, such as deer, will allow the tick population to increase.”
Infected tick bites are pretty easy to miss and can take up to four weeks to show. Anyone who has been bitten should watch out for a “bull’s eye” type red rash appearing around the bite and flu-like symptoms, such as headaches, tiredness and joint pain. People who experience these symptoms should consult their GP straight away.
Most ticks do not carry the infection, but should always be removed immediately when found. If untreated, Lyme disease can spread to the brain, heart with some patients suffering nerve damage, paralysis and blindness in extreme cases.
Advice from the Health Protection Agency is for people to remain “tick aware”. This includes sticking to footpaths in wooded areas, avoiding long and covering up the skin where possible. They also advice people brush clothes and pet’s coats before returning indoors to remove any unattached ticks.
Always talk to your vet if you have any concerns about your pet’s health and to your General Practitioner if you have concerns about your own health.