Ticks are tiny spider-like creatures found throughout the UK and elsewhere, most commonly in grassy and wooded areas. Only a small number of ticks carry the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease so most tick bites are harmless.
Lyme disease has early (stage one) and late (stage two and three) symptoms:
There’s estimated to be around 2,000 to 3,000 cases of Lyme disease in England and Wales each year. It isn't passed on between people. You’re more at risk of becoming infected if you work outdoors or visit the countryside often.
It’s usually easier to treat if it’s diagnosed early, using antibiotics.
The initial Lyme disease symptom is a circular, red rash (called erythema migrans) at the site of the tick bite, often described as a bullseye rash. This usually appears within four weeks of being bitten. Some people also experience flu-like symptoms such as fever and headaches.
If left untreated, the bacteria can spread to other areas of the body, which can cause a range of more serious symptoms. Problems include:
Stage three – chronic Lyme disease
Ongoing symptoms can occur months to years after infection, often after a period of no symptoms at all. Stage three symptoms include:
Remember – not all ticks carry the bacteria, so if you’ve been bitten, there’s usually no need to worry unless you have symptoms.
Your GP will usually be able to diagnose early Lyme disease if you have the distinctive rash and flu-like symptoms.
However, not everyone will get the rash and many of the symptoms are associated with other diseases, making Lyme disease difficult to diagnose.
Blood tests can help confirm or rule out Lyme disease, but they’re not always conclusive – especially in the early stages.
Avoid tick bites by:
If you’ve been bitten by a tick, it normally takes 24 to 48 hours for a tick to pass on the bacteria. Therefore, you should try to remove it as soon as possible to reduce your risk of infection.
Antibiotics will usually clear the infection and prevent the disease from progressing.
Stage two or three
If you have severe symptoms of Lyme disease, then your GP will refer you for strong intravenous antibiotics (injected directly into your blood).
Some people find that their symptoms continue, even after having a second course of antibiotics. It’s unclear why this happens, and there’s currently no cure for ongoing symptoms. Your GP will refer you to a doctor specialising in your symptoms (eg a rheumatologist for joint inflammation or a neurologist for nerve problems). They may also recommend regular check-ups and further investigation into other causes of your symptoms, such as: