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   Inside Out - West: Friday February 16, 2007
Lyme Disease - this tiny tick can leave you paralysed

Lyme Disease

If you go down to the woods, you could be in for a big surprise - and a very unpleasant one at that!

Go for a walk on Exmoor or the Forest of Dean, and you know to watch out for bugs.

In particular, a tiny tick, which is carried on deer, can make people really sick and result in Lyme Disease.

But now scientists at Bath University have found the same ticks in the city's parks.

What's more, they've found new, much more serious symptoms.

The ticks can leave you paralysed - maybe even kill.

A trip to the woods

William Thorpe is a young boy who, like most youngsters. enjoys a trip to the park or woods.

But a recent trip left him feeling very poorly.

William Thorpe
William Thorpe - a nasty shock following a trip to the woods

"William was so poorly I thought it was mumps", says his mother Tracey, from Wiltshire.

She was worried sick when the seven year old had bad headaches, and then found half his face wouldn't move.

The doctors were stumped.

At the 11th hour, one of them suspected Lyme Disease.

Tests proved positive, and the treatment, thankfully for William, was effective.

The hidden killer

"In France they have diagnosed 10 times as many cases as here", says Dr Klaus Kurtenbach, one of the scientists at Bath University.

"Yet we've found the same number of ticks here carrying the disease."

Scientists in forest
Scientists studying ticks in the West Country's open spaces

Dr Kurtenbach and his colleagues believe British doctors are failing to spot the symptoms of the disease.

They say hundreds of people are suffering with headaches and even mild paralysis, who could be treated.

For Inside Out West, Dr Kurtenbach went out to woods near Bath to gather ticks.

Even in February, he found a large number of the bugs.

"Many people think it's only a problem in summer, and only in major forests", he says.

"But we are finding them now, and in greater numbers than ever."

It's clear that the public needs to be more aware of the growing health risk.

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Advice Guide: How can you check for ticks?

Lyme Disease is caused by a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi - it is transmitted to humans by ticks that live on animals.

The animals who might harbour the ticks include deer, sheep, squirrels, mice, hedgehogs, and pheasants.

Lyme Disease was first identified in 1975 in Old Lyme, Connecticut in the United States.

Symptoms include a circular red rash followed by flu-like symptoms including headaches, joint pains, and tiredness.

It was thought that countryside walkers are particularly at risk of tick-borne infections, but recent cases have shown that Lyme Disease can also be picked up in towns.

So what can you do to avoid being a victim of Lyme Disease?

Here is some general advice about prevention and treatment.

* Many people suggest long sleeved clothing is the best protection. But scientists have found ticks can crawl up inside shirts and jumpers.

* Try to avoid being bitten in the first place. If you are camping or walking through wild areas, tuck you trousers into socks. Avoid sitting on the ground in areas of vegetation.

* Wear light-coloured clothing so ticks are easier to see.

* Keep to pathways and avoid areas of dense and overgrown vegetation, where possible

* Check for ticks and remove them with tweezers after going in woodland or grassland, especially before going to bed.

* Don't assume the smaller ticks are less of a risk - they are the ones most likely to infect humans because there are many more of these (called nymphs) than the fully grown ones.

* Be aware of symptoms - rash, flu-like symptoms, numbness (or palsy) often in limbs or face. Back pain, headaches, fever and joint pain are also indicators.

* Go to your GP if you are worried, and tell them you've been in the woods, you found a tick and ask them to check for Lyme Disease.


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