THE DANGERS posed by seed-like insects called ticks and their link to Lyme Disease should be common knowledge – and not just because celebrities are being affected.
Actress Marla Maples, ex-wife of controversial US presidential hopeful Donald Trump, recently spoke of how she underwent up to eight months of antibiotic treatments for Lyme Disease.
She follows other famous names who have revealed their battles with the condition, including singer Avril Lavigne, 30 Rock actor Alec Baldwin and popular author Amy Tan.
However, we ordinary folk also need to be aware of the dangers of ticks and a disease that can have life-long consequences if it is not caught in time – and that’s why I’m blogging about it right now.
Ticks link to Lyme Disease
Until I became the mother of two outdoorsy girls I had naively assumed that ticks only targeted dogs that were taken on forest walks.
During my childhood on a north Cork farm, I had only seen a tick once when my father found a tiny arachnid on a cow. The incident probably stayed in my mind because I found the notion that it had gorged itself on the cow’s blood fascinatingly gross!
I would have been too young, at the time, to know that ticks transmit a life threatening parasite, Babesia divergens or redwater parasite, to cattle that can then develop the potentially fatal Redwater Disease.
And it was only after we moved an area on the Waterford/South Tipperary border, which is highly populated by wild deer, eight years ago that I became aware of the prevalence ticks and the problems they can cause.
Educating about Lyme Disease
We’ve had to teach ourselves about Lyme Disease, or Borreliosis, which is caused by the Borrelia Burgdorferi bacterium, and can be transmitted to humans by ticks.
Ticks attach themselves to mammals, lying in wait for warm-blooded targets in forests, grassy and overgrown areas – they love warm, humid conditions.
But we have even discovered them in our garden! Since we found a tick attached to our daughter’s face after she complained her cheek was itchy we’ve encouraged the girls not to lie directly on the grass but to use picnic blankets instead. It’s a simple precaution but it’s worked so far.
The Great Imitator
The problem with Lyme Disease is that it is known as ‘the great imitator’. It is notoriously difficult to diagnose because it can be mistaken for several other conditions including Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis etc.
Officials figures suggest that Lyme Disease affects around 300,000 people in the United States every year and 65,000 across Europe.
However, campaigners working to highlight the dangers of Lyme Disease argue that because it can be hard to diagnose, actual figures are much, much higher.
Another problem for the medical profession is that while Lyme Disease often manifests itself with a rash and flu-like symptoms, there are cases where symptoms are slower to emerge.
In Ireland, there is a growing movement of Lyme Disease sufferers who have been through the system and are now determined to provide support and education.
During my print journalism days, I spoke to two Belfast men who had spent years battling to have is diagnosis confirmed by doctors in Northern Ireland. They were both eventually forced to travel abroad for costly treatments and were convinced that the best way to fight Lyme Disease was to have specialists in hospitals on both sides of the border.
I am convinced that education and public discussion about ticks and Lyme Disease are the best way to tackle the threat they pose to public health.
It really is worth checking out Tick Talk Ireland, a group set up by Lyme Disease sufferers determined to inform the public and help prevent others being affected.
Hill walkers, wildlife rangers and Scout groups etc are well aware of the importance of taking precautions against ticks, but there is a real need for the general public, especially parents, to be made aware that a few simple steps can help reduce the risk.
Here’s some handy advice published by Ireland’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre for anyone engaging in “outdoor pursuits…in forested or grassy areas” in the coming months.
Tick bites can be prevented by:
1.Wearing long trousers, long sleeved shirt and shoes
2. Using an insect repellent
3. Checking skin, hair and warm skin folds (especially the neck and scalp of children) for ticks, after a day out
4. Removing any ticks and consulting with a GP if symptoms develop
5. If you have been walking your dog, check him/her too
If you find a tick don’t panic, simply use a tweezers to remove it and then wash the area, keeping an eye on it and consulting your GP if there’s any sign of swelling or a rash.
Further important information on how to protect against Lyme disease is available on the HPSC website http://www.hpsc.ie/A-Z/Vectorborne/LymeDisease/.