As the climate changes and winters get warmer, ticks persist year round, and this a most apparent in the south of England. So for now there are 2-3000 new cases of Lyme disease each year in the UK and the incidence is rising rapidly. It can be a very serious illness and one we all need to know more about.
The most obvious symptom is a red bulls eye shaped circular rash appearing 1 to 4 weeks after a tick bite, although it can appear as early as 3 days or as late as 3 months. It is not an itchy rash and it is so typical of Lyme disease that your doctor should recognise it and treat you without delay. Blood tests for Lyme disease take about 3 months to become positive!
That might seem straightforward; but a third of people who get Lyme disease never have this typical rash. Some have very common general symptoms only; flu like symptoms, neck stiffness, joint and muscle pains, brain fog, headaches and pins and needles. Others get inflammatory arthritis in one or more joints, heart problems, red sore eyes and facial nerve palsy (often called Bell’s palsy). And many people never realise that they have been bitten by a tick at all.
In fact up to 10% of people with Lyme disease develop a facial palsy and everyone who has or has had a facial palsy should be tested for Lyme disease.
If Lyme disease is identified early and treated with antibiotics (quite high doses are required for 3 weeks) then 95% of patients can expect to be cured. Untreated Lyme disease can progress over many years to damage the heart and the brain and nervous system.
In the face of this coming wave of trouble, you will not be surprised to hear work is continuing apace to develop a vaccine against Lyme disease. A French vaccine developer, Valneva has announced that its new vaccine, currently called VLA15, has passed phase 1 trials with flying colours and regulatory authorities in both Europe and the USA are doing all they can to bring this vaccine to public use as soon as safety is fully established. It is expected that the vaccine will be licensed for everyone aged 2 and above, on a 3 dose schedule given monthly. The “target” population for this vaccine is all those over 2 years living in an endemic area……….and the whole of the UK is now accepted as being an endemic area.
We do not yet know who will be able to avail themselves of this vaccine under the NHS, or indeed when it will be released for use but at Private GP Services we shall be keeping a close eye on the situation and as ever bringing you the best preventative care options as soon as we can.