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Lyme Disease

As a gap year traveller Lyme disease is not a disease you are likely to know anything about but just being aware of the disease could help significantly reduce the chances of you contracting it.  This is a case of a little knowledge being a good thing.

The Borrelia tick that causes Lyme disease is tiny and difficult to detectEach year gap year travellers visit North America and Europe, where Lyme disease is most prevalent, in their tens of thousands.  Gap year travellers also spend much of their time outdoors and many like nothing better than to leave the beaten track.  Mosquitoes, midges and flies will be all too apparent but the tiny little Borrelia tick that causes Lyme disease is not so obvious and can be very difficult to detect.

What? Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is spread to humans by infected ticks.  They feed on the blood of mammals, including humans and this is how the disease is transferred.  Ticks are tiny, easy to miss, often go unnoticed and can remain feeding for several days before dropping off.  However they must remain attached for more than a day before the disease can be passed on.

Where? Infected animals and ticks that carry Lyme disease are found in grasslands, woods and forests in Europe (including the UK), North America and parts of Asia.

What is the risk? You are at risk of getting bitten by ticks in forests, woods, parks and grasslands.  This is more likely if you work outside or do a lot of walking, camping or outdoor activities especially in spring, summer and early autumn.  You cannot get Lyme disease directly from another person.

What are the symptoms?

The first and most distinctive evidence of Lyme disease is a pink or red circular rash that The most distinctive evidence that you have been bitten by a tick is this red circular rash known as erythema migransisdevelops round the area of the bite three to 30 days after someone is bitten.  It is often described as a distinctive red ‘bull's eye' that is known as erythema migrans.

You may also experience flu-like symptoms such as tiredness, headaches and muscle or joint pain.  If Lyme disease is left untreated further symptoms may develop months or even years later and include: joint and muscle pain with swelling; temporary paralysis of your face (Bell's palsy).  In its late stages Lyme disease can trigger symptoms similar to chronic fatigue syndrome.

How can I prevent it?

  • Wear shoes or boots rather than sandals.
  • Wear trousers rather than shorts and tuck your trousers into your socks.
  • Wear a long sleeved shirt with sleeves rolled down.
  • Use insect repellent on your clothes.
  • Avoid walking in overgrown grass or bushes. Where possible stick to the middle of paths.
  • Check your whole body, including your scalp, regularly for ticks.
  • Check your children and pets for ticks.
  • Shower as soon as you can after being outside.
  • If possible, tumble dry clothes.


What if I find a tick on me or my children?

If you find a tick on your skin grip it gently as close to the skin as possible, preferably with tweezers, and pull away gentlyIf you find a tick on you, your child or your pet, remove it by gently gripping it as close to the skin as possible, preferably using fine-toothed tweezers, and pull steadily away from the skin.  Never use a lit cigarette, a match head or essential oils to force the tick out.

If you find a tick on you and it has been on for less than three days, you could benefit from taking an antibiotic to prevent Lyme disease - ask your doctor about this.


Can Lyme disease be treated? Yes by antibiotics.  Should you begin to notice the symptoms mentioned above visit your doctor and explain it is possible that you could have been bitten by a tick.  Your doctor can then take steps to test for the disease and start the appropriate treatment of antibiotics.  The sooner the disease is detected the better.  Currently there is no vaccine.


For more information on Lyme disease:


"Seeking to solve the Lyme disease puzzle" by Jane O'Brien, BBC News, Washington.

NaTHNaC Travel Health Information Sheet Lyme disease.

NHS Choices - Lyme disease

Health Protection Agency - Lyme disease

MedicineNet article on Lyme disease