Is it too much to hope that an important public health matter, such as Lyme disease, will be an issue in the general election? There’s been a worrying reluctance by the authorities to face up to the extent of the disease here.
A leading infectious disease consultant, Dr Jack Lambert, of the Mater Hospital, Dublin, who is treating Lyme patients from all over the country, believes the number of cases is greatly underestimated.
A two-page, special report in this newspaper, on October 7 last, revealed a 10-fold increase in the disease in the Cork/Kerry region alone. And, while there was feedback from some patients and the public, there was almost zero reaction from politicians. During the election campaign, people will be able to highlight the situation with those seeking their votes and bluntly tell them to wake up.
People spending a large amount of time outdoors are at higher risk of the disease, which can be contracted following a bite from the common tick, called a sceartan in Irish. This is a blood-sucking parasite which feeds on animals like deer, cattle, sheep and goats.
The Lyme Resource Centre (LRC) was opened in the Mater Hospital, in November 2018, to meet growing demand from patients as the number of suspected cases continues to rise. The first of its kind in the state, the main aim of the centre is to educate the public and the medical profession about the disease and related tick-borne infections.
Far more progress is being made in America than in Britain or Ireland. Attitudes in the US are changing where Lyme disease is six times more prevalent than HIV; yet, until now, the health budget for Lyme was less than 1% of that for HIV.
However, charities in the US are now funding major research, a number of drugs with potential to treat the disease have been identified and government and voluntary agencies have started to work together.
And, while the US is finally recognising the extent of the epidemic, efforts have been made to downplay the extent of tick-borne infections in the UK and Ireland, says the LRC. “Instead, what is urgently needed is much-expanded education and training, research funding, and a concerted government action plan for tackling tick-borne diseases,” it adds.
At present, says the LRC, there are no charitable foundations funding research similar to those in the US, government funding is almost non-existent and government interest and action is inadequate. New tick-borne diseases are expected in Ireland a result of climate change. Dr Jack Lambert, meanwhile, is the Irish contributing author to a scholarly new book, Lyme Disease, by Dr Bernard Raxlen and Allie Cashel, which features several international experts.