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Monday, 16 August 2010

Having a friend who has just been diagnosed, and a friend of a friend who is seriously unwell with Lyme Disease, it has prompted me to find out more about something I have heard of for many years but, until now, not really taken too seriously as a human risk.

It was originally diagnosed in the 1970’s in Old Lyme, Connecticut, United States where doctors became aware of humans, and in particular children, suffering from recurrent diseases of the joints.  Lyme Disease today is prevalent in many areas of the U.S. and is also found in other parts of the world where ticks exist.  The tick season is at its height between May and August in woodland and forest locations in the northern hemisphere (of course, in the southern hemisphere it will also be prevalent in their summer months).

There are different species of tick and many of these are carriers and transmitters of Lyme Disease, however, the Ixodes species of tick is the one most associated with its transmission.  There are other diseases spread by ticks but Lyme Disease is the most common and, just to make matters worse, other biting insects, such as fleas, can carry and so spread Lyme Disease, however, ticks are still believed to be the most frequent means of transmission.  Lyme Disease is caused by the most common of the Borrelia bacteria – Borrelia burgdorferi.  The bacterium is found worldwide in many mammals – in the U.K. it is carried predominantly by deer; but, for instance, in the north east of America it is carried predominantly by a white-footed mouse!

Ticks do not fly!  So dogs collect a tick or ticks by brushing past wildlife or vegetation where a tick is waiting opportunistically for a passing new host – and meal!  Human contact with the tick is most likely through our dogs, though of course we can ‘collect’ ticks too in woodlands, forests and areas inhabited by deer.  The tick will ‘get aboard’ its new host, attach to the skin and start feeding by sucking blood.  It is during this feeding process that the saliva of the tick can transmit Lyme Disease.  Many of us will have had the delight of removing these little critters from our dogs, hopefully before they have swelled too large from their blood meal.  Undetected they can gorge to more than a hundred times their ‘unfed’ size and anyone who has trodden on a ‘fed’ tick will know the body sack is full of thick deep red/black sticky blood.  It is important when removing an attached tick to do this without killing or squeezing it, as these actions will induce the tick to regurgitate, so passing on infection.  If you use one of the commonly available green ‘crochet hooks’, or a pair of tweezers, it is essential to hold the tick between the body and mouth parts, twist and pull, so the tick comes away intact.

Prevention against infection is possible and essential for dogs during the tick season.  There are several products and collars available, some that deter the tick from attaching in the first place and others than can be used to spray on and kill an already attached tick.  These can be obtained from your vet and, in some instances, from a reputable pet store.  There is a vaccine available that is effective for up to six months, but this is usually only prescribed for dogs regularly exposed in high risk areas.  In researching this article I have found no prevention treatment for humans, other than the advice to spray exposed skin with an insect repellent containing DEET, and aiming to cover most of the body when walking in ‘high risk’ tick areas.

In dogs the most common indicator of infection is lameness accompanied by fever, lethargy and weight loss.  In humans a red rash develops where the tick has attached and later may be followed by headaches, fever, severe tiredness and lethargy, poor sleep pattern, joint pain, chills and weight loss.  Lymph nodes may also become enlarged.  A specific blood test is the only way to confirm infection in both humans and dogs.

It should not be assumed that if your dog is diagnosed with Lyme Disease you, or others in contact with your dog, will be infected, but it is highly advisable to be tested, as it is likely you and your dog were together when your dog hosted the infected tick, so possible you could have hosted a tick, or been bitten, at the same time.

The treatment for infected humans and dogs is a course of antibiotics from the tetracycline and/or penicillin groups both proving most effective; however as with many diseases the sooner it is diagnosed and treated the better the long-term prognosis.

August 2010

If you have any related information, or comments, on this topic please contact Gillie Gomarsall on 01284 735222 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

For immediate health and dietary advice, please telephone Elaine Kirkham, Health Sub-Committee Co-ordinator, on 0121 444 5478 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.