Public Health England (PHE) is reminding people to be ‘tick aware’ this summer by launching new leaflets advising the public on how to prevent tick bites and the risk of contracting Lyme disease
The leaflets are available on PHE’s website and will be shared with outdoor and leisure activity organisations who can share with their members.
The new leaflets are part of a programme of activities launched by PHE to raise awareness of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses among health professionals and the public.
Ticks are tiny spider-like creatures and are found in woodlands, parks and gardens. They are most prevalent in late spring, summer and autumn. PHE is asking the public to be mindful of getting bitten as we increasingly venture outdoors over the coming months.
Once a tick bite is detected it is important to remove the tick with a tweezers as soon as possible to reduce the risk of becoming ill. Most ticks do not carry the infection but any area in which ticks are present should be regarded as potential risk areas for acquiring Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection which is transmitted by tick bites. Often the only symptom of Lyme disease is a rash, which gradually spreads from the site of the tick bite. The rash can cover a large area and last for weeks if left untreated. Some patients may also have ‘flu-like’ symptoms.
If left untreated more serious symptoms may develop in the following weeks or months. Lyme disease can be treated successfully with antibiotics and early treatment usually clears the rash within several days and helps to prevent the development of complications. More serious symptoms also respond to antibiotic treatment.
There were 998 provisional cases of Lyme disease reported to PHE in England and Wales in 2012 – a similar number of cases as was reported in 2011. However, not all cases of Lyme disease are confirmed by laboratory testing and, as in previous years, the overall number of Lyme disease cases in England and Wales is estimated at between 2,000 and 3,000 cases a year. Incidence of Lyme disease acquired in England and Wales remains low compared to some other European countries or in North America.
Cases of Lyme disease are often acquired through recreational activities including camping, walking, hiking and mountain-biking, where tick exposure is more likely. Areas where the infection has been transmitted in the UK include popular holiday destinations such as Exmoor, the New Forest, the South Downs, parts of Wiltshire and Berkshire, Thetford Forest, the Lake District, the Yorkshire moors and the Scottish Highlands.
Dr Tim Brooks, Head of PHE’s Rare and Imported Pathogens Laboratory (RIPL) which tests samples for Lyme disease, said:
We strongly encourage everyone to enjoy spending time in the countryside this summer but it’s important people are aware that tick bites can lead to unpleasant illnesses such as Lyme disease.
We hope these new leaflets will help explain the risks from ticks and share good practice on how to avoid and treat tick bites to reduce the risk of Lyme disease and other tick borne illnesses.
In addition, PHE’s Rare and Imported Pathogens Laboratory is also evaluating different diagnostic tests, and will be developing a specific set of guidance for the investigation and management of Lyme disease in the UK. Prevention of Lyme disease is one of the most effective ways of managing this infection. PHE is also working towards raising awareness of the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease among GPs and other healthcare professionals.
Professor Brooks added:
There is not yet an effective vaccine against Lyme disease so tick awareness, avoidance of tick infested areas if possible, the use of appropriate clothing in areas where ticks are more common and early removal of attached ticks remain the most important prevention measures people can take to protect themselves and their families.
Notes to editors
To minimise the risk of being bitten by an infected tick, the PHE advice is to:
- wear appropriate clothing (a long sleeved shirt and long trousers tucked into socks). Light coloured fabrics are useful, as it is easier to see ticks against a light background
- consider using insect repellents, such as DEET-containing preparations
- inspect skin frequently and remove any attached ticks. Ticks can be very small, look for something as tiny as a freckle, or a speck of dirt
- at the end of the day, check again thoroughly for ticks, especially in skin folds
- make sure that children’s head and neck areas, including scalps, are properly checked
- a shower or bath after returning from a tick-infested area helps to reduce risk
- check that ticks are not brought home on clothes
- check that pets do not bring ticks into the home on their fur
Public Health England is a new executive agency of the Department of Health that took up its full responsibilities on 1 April, 2013. PHE works with national and local government, industry and the NHS to protect and improve the nation’s health and support healthier choices and will be addressing inequalities by focusing on removing barriers to good health. To find out more visit our website www.gov.uk/phe or follow us on Twitter @PHE_uk.