HSE warns against risk of Lyme disease

The HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre is urging people who take part in outdoor pursuits to protect themselves against Lyme disease, which is spread by tick bites. Lyme disease can, in a minority of cases, cause severe debilitating heart and nervous system disease.

As people are more likely to engage in outdoor pursuits in the summer months, ramblers, campers, mountain bikers, and others who work and walk in forested or grassy areas must be vigilant against tick bites, says HPSC specialist in public health medicine, Dr Paul McKeown.

“Ticks are tiny insect like creatures that feed on the blood of mammals and birds and will also feed on humans. Ticks are more numerous and more active in the summer months and protecting against tick bites protects against Lyme disease,” explained Dr McKeown.

Tick bites can be prevented by wearing long trousers, long sleeved shirt and shoes; using an insect repellent; checking skin, hair and warm skin folds (especially the neck and scalp of children ) for ticks after a day out; and removing any ticks and consulting a GP if symptoms develop.

According to Dr McKeown only a minority of ticks carry infection. If a tick is removed within a few hours, the risk of infection is low. The entire tick, including any mouthparts which might break off, should be removed with a tweezers by gripping it close to the skin. The skin where the tick was found should then be washed with soap and water and the area checked over the next few weeks for swelling or redness. Anyone who develops a rash or other symptoms should visit his/her GP and explain that they have been bitten by a tick.

“Although the true incidence of Lyme disease is not known it is likely that there are at least 50 to 100 cases in Ireland every year,” Dr McKeown added.

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