As holidaymakers travel across Ireland this summer, they are urged by experts to take precautions against Lyme disease. A parasite-transmitted infection, general awareness of the markers for Lyme disease, and the importance of early diagnosis is low. But as well as being preventable, effective treatment with antibiotics (such as doxycycline or amoxicillin) is available.
Although some 73 symptoms are associated with Lyme disease, one of the most prominent symptoms of Lyme disease is a “bullseye” rash at the site of the tick bite.
For Sophie La Touche, influencer and Lyme advocate, lack of medical awareness about Lyme and misdiagnosis meant that her experience was prolonged and painful.
During the early stages of Lyme, she explains that “it got to a point where I couldn't shower because the steam was too intense for my senses – everything was heightened… I was getting vertigo and I was so dizzy. And at the same time, the doctors were saying there was nothing wrong with me. I just remember it was the most horrible time of my life. I will never, in as long as I live, forget how much I wanted to die.”
She was misdiagnosed with mixed connective tissue disease and placed on immunosuppressants, which worsened her condition to a debilitating state. “I used to leave my door wide open in my room because I was afraid that I was going to die in the middle of the night and no one was going to find me.”
She says that raising awareness is vital. “It was my uncle actually that listened to somebody on the radio [talk] about their symptoms with Lyme disease. And he rang me and said, ‘Sophie, maybe you should look up the symptoms and see if that's what's happening’. And so I did and it was literally like reading my diary.”
La Touche underwent the testing and, after years of confusion and suffering, received her positive result within two days. “Honestly, it was the best day of my life,” she explains, beaming. “I finally felt heard, I finally felt seen. I finally just felt like ‘Okay, it's not all in your head’.”
Ticks need to be attached to the skin and feeding before there is a risk of infection. Removing the tick as soon as it bites creates a severely reduced risk. This can be done with a pair of tweezers. The tick is removed by gently gripping it close to the skin and pulling steadily. Afterwards, the affected area should be washed with warm soapy water and applying antiseptic cream.
Dr Phil Kieran, GP in Washington Street Medical Centre says that instances of undiagnosed or misdiagnosed Lyme disease are rare. “I have diagnosed three cases of Lyme in the last 17 years."
According to the HealthHealth Protection Surveillance Centre, not always, even if bitten by an infected tick. We know this because studies that tested large groups of people (such as blood donors) from areas with high levels of ticks, showed that around 1 in 5 people have a blood test result showing they were infected with the Lyme bacterium at some stage of their life, without remembering a tick bite or having symptoms of Lyme.
- Shady and humid woodland clearings with grass
- Open grassland, parkland, fields and bushes
- Walking paths, especially those bordered by long grasses
- Wooded and forested areas
- Vegetation close to lakes and seaside beaches
If you find an attached tick, remove it by gently gripping it as close to the skin as possible using a pair of fine-tipped tweezers or tick removal tool. Pull steadily away from the skin without twisting or crushing the tick. Wash your skin with warm water and soap afterwards, and apply an antiseptic cream to the skin around the bite.
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre has created a guide to protecting ourselves against ticks and Lyme disease.