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Lyme disease

Lyme disease, also known as Lyme borreliosis, is a bacterial infection transmitted by infected ticks,


It is called Lyme disease after the US town in Connecticut where it was first recognised.

Lyme disease can affect the skin, joints, heart and nervous system. 

There are around 2,000 to 3,000 cases of Lyme disease in England and Wales each year. However, around 15% of cases are contracted while people are abroad.

Lyme disease can be treated, but if it is not detected and treated it can lead to long-term health problems.

An infected person cannot pass Lyme disease to other people.

What are ticks?

Ticks are small bugs, similar to tiny spiders. Unlike spiders they suck the blood of mammals – including humans and pets – for food.

Most tick bites in the UK happen in late spring, early summer and in the autumn when outdoor activities are popular. Cases are thought to be rising due to climate change and winters becoming warmer allowing ticks to thrive.

Regions in the UK with high tick populations include:

  • Exmoor
  • The New Forest, Hampshire
  • The South Downs
  • Parts of Wiltshire and Berkshire
  • Thetford Forest, Norfolk
  • The Lake District
  • The Yorkshire Moors
  • The Scottish Highlands

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?

Lyme disease symptoms include:

  • A pink or red circular 'bull's eye' type rash around the bite area. This can develop between three to 30 days after a person is bitten.
  • Flu-like symptoms 
  • Stiff neck
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes 
  • Headache 
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Joint pain


Left untreated, Lyme disease can lead to:

  •   Muscle pain
  •   Swollen joints 
  • Temporary paralysis of muscles in the face 
  • Other neurological symptoms
  • Heart problems


Later symptoms can be similar to those of fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome.

Meningitis may develop in some people infected with Lyme disease.

An infected person cannot pass Lyme disease to other people.

How is Lyme disease diagnosed?

Lyme disease may be difficult to diagnose because many of its symptoms are shared with other health conditions. A person may not remember being bitten and may not associate their symptoms with a tick bite.

The bull's eye rash is a major diagnostic sign of Lyme disease.

Doctors can confirm Lyme disease using two blood tests - ELISA test and the Western Blot test.

  • ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay). This blood test measures the levels of antibodies the body is using to fight the Lyme disease bacteria.
  • Western blot. This blood test may be done if the ELISA test is inconclusive. It checks for antibodies directed against a panel of proteins found on the Lyme disease bacteria.

Further tests may be needed if the results are inconclusive.

How is Lyme disease treated?

A course of oral antibiotics, usually for two to four weeks, is usually requited to treat Lyme disease.

When symptoms are more severe and include arthritis or neurological conditions, IV (intravenous) antibiotics may be given.

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