In the UK East Devon MP Hugo Swire has been at the forefront of a campaign to draw attention to the problem and organised a one-day seminar at the House of Commons in November last year. “Lyme disease is like an alien,” he says. “The bacteria tries to take over your body. It is very serious and can make you permanently disabled. We need to be more aware of its dangers and more open to its diagnosis and more determined in its treatment.” Mr Swire was prompted to speak out on the issue by a constituent from Sidmouth, Stella Huyshe-Shires, who contracted the disease in 1999 but was not diagnosed until 2002, and then only because she insisted on a blood test and a referral to a neurologist. She approached the MP because she was concerned that knowledge of the affliction amongst GPs and consultants was insufficient. Above: Hugo Swire with East Devon constituent and Lyme disease victim Stella Huyshe-Shires.
Infected ticks can transmit the organisms during blood feeds, when they may be attached to the skin for several days if left undisturbed. The most common problem associated with the infection is a rash spreading from the site of a tick bite, but other more serious problems can occur. These include a viral-like meningitis, facial palsy, other nerve damage or arthritis.
“No vaccine against Lyme disease is currently available, so tick awareness, appropriate clothing in tick infested areas, and early removal of attached ticks remain the most important prevention measures,” says Mr Swire.
While ticks can attach themselves to humans, most people become aware of the blood-sucking parasites when they discover that their pet cat or dog has an unexpected lump which turns out to be an engorged tick. The pests can be easily removed with a tick hook, available at veterinary practices, but it is important to remove the entire tick including the head. Above: Ticks will bury themselves deep in your pet’s hair or fur. Hook and twist, and the little monster can be disposed of.
“Numerous studies have shown that keeping the deer population at acceptable levels dramatically reduces the incidence of Lyme disease,” says John VanDerLaan. “Some areas of Connecticut, where Lyme disease had reached epidemic proportions, virtually eliminated the disease by reducing the deer population from 30 per square mile to 3 per square mile. Controlling the deer population is one of the keys to reducing the cases of Lyme disease on Cape Cod.”
The same demands are echoed in the UK. The magazine Country Life issued a manifesto in April 2008 which called for a 30% reduction in the wild-deer population to reduce the economic, conservation, human and welfare costs that such numbers bring.
John VanDerLaan points out that while deer ticks are usually found in woodland habitats such as hiking trails, conservation lands and other forested recreational areas, they can be found right in your own backyard. You can protect yourself by following a few simple steps, he says.
• Wear light coloured clothing. Ticks are easier to see against a light background.
• Wear long sleeves and long trousers (U.S. pants). Tuck your trousers/pants into your socks.
• Use appropriate insect repellents.
• Use veterinarian-approved tick control products on pets that are allowed outdoors.
• Keep brush and tall vegetation away from the house.
• Keep bird feeders at a distance as birds may carry ticks.
Do a tick check everyday.
A careful tick check is the most effective way to protect you and your family from Lyme disease. After outdoor activities, brush off clothing thoroughly and do a visual inspection paying particular attention to folded areas such as cuffs, belts and shirt collars.
Do a complete body check on a daily basis. Check children more frequently. Carefully inspect the hairline and scalp as well as difficult-to-see areas such as the back.
A tick needs to be feeding on a host for at least 24 hours in order to transmit the bacteria. Therefore, a daily tick check is imperative to prevent this debilitating illness.
For further information see http://www.best-of-cape-cod.com/lyme-disease-on-cape-cod.html
Meanwhile, for East Devon residents, some good advice is to eat more venison, such as the excellent meat and sausages supplied by Clinton Devon Estates ranger Tom Garner, pictured here at Budleigh Salterton Farmers’ Market. More information at http://www.clintondevon.com/deer-management/deermanagement.ashx
Picture credit: Tick photos at http://www.lymediseaseaction.org.uk/