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  • How Prevalent is Lyme Disease in the UK?

How Prevalent is Lyme Disease in the UK?

Aug 14 2019 Read 529 Times

According to new research, cases of Lyme disease in the UK could be up to three times higher than estimated. Experts warn the tick-borne disease "is everywhere" and could result in as many as 8000 new diagnoses in 2019. The findings come after a team of researchers led by medical statistician Dr Victoria Cairns analysed the anonymous medical records of 8.4 million Brits. They found that previous estimates of between 2000 and 3000 cases were wide off the mark and warn that Lyme disease could be far more prevalent than originally thought.

Diagnosing Lyme disease

Classed as a bacterial infection, Lyme disease is carried by ticks carrying a bacterium called Borrelia. The tiny arachnids typically live in moist vegetated areas and pass on the disease to humans via bites. Infection can result in many different symptoms which makes Lyme disease notoriously difficult to diagnose. Early symptoms are often mistaken for the flu, while around 25% of cases develop an inflamed red ring around the bite. Blood tests are required to carry out a full clinical assessment which adds to the complexity of diagnosis. If Lyme disease is treated within four weeks antibiotics are an effective cure, however if the infection spreads it can cause permanent damage to the nervous system and joints.

The findings were published in the journal BMJ and point out that half of Lyme disease cases occurred between June and August, the months when Brits spend the most time outdoors and increase the rick of exposure to infected ticks. Scotland reported the highest number of cases, accounting for 27% of the total. South and South West England also recorded higher than average Lyme disease cases, again a trend that could be linked to the active outdoor lifestyle.

Experts stress the importance of awareness and early treatment

With Lyme disease in the UK on the rise, Cairns and her team stress that's it's more important than ever to promote awareness. “The exact number isn’t so important,” she says. “The point is that it’s a lot, and it’s everywhere, and that’s why people should be informed.” Prevention is one of the most effective measures, with Cairns adding, “The main thing that should come out of [this work] is to be on the alert. There’s no need to panic, the treatment works – but if you don’t get it in time you might have some long-term problems.”

Dr Anne Cruikshank, clinical champion for Lyme disease at the Royal College of GPs agrees, saying “These levels are not a big surprise to those of us who know about Lyme disease. I expect the 8,000 figure may be an underestimate, since the data shows that positive lab results have doubled every five years.”

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