Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that can be spread to humans by infected ticks. It’s usually easier to treat if it’s diagnosed early.
Symptoms of Lyme disease
Many people with early symptoms of Lyme disease develop a circular red skin rash around a tick bite.
The rash can appear up to 3 months after being bitten by a tick and usually lasts for several weeks. Most rashes appear within the first 4 weeks.
Most tick bites are harmless
Only a small number of ticks are infected with the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. A tick bite can only cause Lyme disease in humans if the tick has already bitten an infected animal.
But it’s still important to be aware of ticks and to safely remove them as soon as possible, just in case.
Ticks that may cause Lyme disease are found all over the UK, but high-risk areas include grassy and wooded areas in southern England and the Scottish Highlands.
How to spot and remove ticks
See a GP if:
- you’ve been bitten by a tick or visited an area in the past month where infected ticks are found
and you get:
- flu-like symptoms – such as feeling hot and shivery, headaches, aching muscles or feeling sick, or
- a circular red rash
Tell them if you’ve been in forests or grassy areas.
What happens at your appointment
Your GP will ask about your symptoms and consider any rash or recent tick bites you know about.
Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose. It has similar symptoms to other conditions and there is not always an obvious rash.
Two types of blood test are available to help confirm or rule out Lyme disease. However, these tests are not always accurate in the early stages of the disease.
You may need to be re-tested if you still have Lyme disease symptoms after a negative result.
Treatment from your GP
If your GP thinks you might have Lyme disease, they’ll prescribe a 3-week course of antibiotics. It’s important to finish the course, even if you start to feel better.
Some people with severe symptoms will be referred to a specialist in hospital for injections of stronger antibiotics.
Most people with Lyme disease get better after antibiotic treatment. This can take months for some people, but the symptoms should improve over time.
People with symptoms of Lyme disease that last a long time after treatment may be referred to a specialist in hospital for advice and more blood tests.
How to avoid tick bites
To reduce the risk of being bitten:
- cover your skin while walking outdoors and tuck your trousers into your socks
- use insect repellent on your clothes and skin – products containing DEET are best
- stick to paths whenever possible
- wear light-coloured clothing so ticks are easier to spot and brush off
A few people who are diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease continue to have symptoms – like tiredness, aches and loss of energy – that can last for years.
It’s not clear why this happens to some people and not others. This means there is also no agreed treatment.
Speak to your doctor if your symptoms come back after treatment with antibiotics or don’t start to improve. Your doctor may be able to offer you further support if needed, such as:
- referral for a care needs assessment
- telling your employer, school or higher education institution that you require a gradual return to activities
- communicating with children and families’ social care