How to prevent lyme disease

Despite the name, lyme disease doesn’t have anything to do with the tart green citrus fruit – no, it's a bacterial infection that’s spread by ticks. Not every tick carries the disease, but there are certain areas where you’re more likely to encounter an infected tick.

During the spring and summer months, you’ll probably be spending more time outdoors, perhaps walking or exploring the lush British countryside. However, it’s not just the sudden downpour of rain you’ll need to be prepared for, but the risk of coming into contact with a tick carrying the bacteria that causes lyme disease.

That’s why we’ve compiled this helpful guide to explain what lyme disease is, how you can contract and prevent it, and all of the signs and symptoms to look out for. After all, you don’t want lyme disease to sour your summer!

What is lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that’s spread to humans through an infected tick. Ticks infected with lyme disease can be found across the UK. But there are some areas where you’re at an increased risk of contracting the disease. These places include grassy and woodland areas in southern and northern England, in addition to the Scottish Highlands.

Not every tick will carry the bacteria that causes lyme disease. But if you discover you’ve been bitten by a tick, it’s important to remove it as soon as possible just in case you’re unlucky enough to have been infected.

What are the symptoms of lyme disease?

Typically, it’s easier to treat lyme disease if you’ve been diagnosed early. Although the disease isn’t life-threatening, a few people have symptoms that can persist for years, decreasing their quality of life.

So, what exactly are the symptoms? Keep reading to find out.

The main sign is a rash in the area where the infection entered your body. A circular rash surrounding the tick bite can be an early symptom (it can look similar to a bullseye), but most people only develop a rash 1-4 weeks after being bitten, and for others, it can take up to 3 months!

This rash can last for weeks, and it can appear differently on everyone. It might be flat, raised, pink, red or purple if your skin is pale. If you’ve got brown or black skin, it can be trickier to see the rash as it's unlikely to be hot or itchy. On darker skin, it may look similar to a bruise.

Additionally, some people experience flu-like symptoms that can manifest a few days or weeks after you were bitten, including:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Fatigue

If you delay treatment, you’re at an increased risk of developing more severe symptoms further down the line, such as:

  • Painful and swollen joints
  • Nerve problems
  • Heart problems
  • Memory or concentration issues

Don’t worry! By removing the tick quickly and seeking advice from your GP if you notice any symptoms, it’s probable that you’ll make a full recovery. Of course, there are precautions you can take to avoid being infected in the first place. This is something you should definitely consider if you’re visiting the countryside!

How to prevent lyme disease

Staying away from high risk rural areas isn’t always possible, but there are things you can do to lower your chances of being bitten by an infected tick:

  • Ensure that your skin is covered. For example, opt for trousers instead of shorts and tuck your trousers into your socks
  • Spray yourself with insect repellant, ideally one containing DEET
  • Try and stay on clear paths
  • Wear light-coloured clothing so ticks are easier to spot

Despite lyme disease not being a life-threatening infection, sometimes the symptoms – like aches, tiredness and a lack of energy – can last for years, impacting your work and personal life.

But if you take the necessary precautions and seek medical advice as soon as you notice a tick bite or the symptoms of lyme disease, we imagine you’ll be just fine. Remember, if you need further information about lyme disease, visit the NHS website.

Alexandra Moses - Medical Content Writer
James O'Loan - CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist
James O'Loan , CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist on 17 July 2023
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