The disease is caused by Borrelia bacteria transferred from infected wildlife to humans, through a tick bite. In the UK the disease is usually carried by lxodes ricinus — known as the sheep, deer or woodland tick.
The disease starts as a rash, but can lead to meningitis, facial palsy, nerve damage and arthritis. It can be treated by antibiotics, but if left undiagnosed complicated treatment may be needed.
Simple measures, such as wearing appropriate clothing or cleaning boots after use, can help reduce the incidence of the disease.
RFS chief executive Dr John Jackson said: ‘Lyme disease is a major problem in Europe and North America. Although it is still relatively uncommon in this country, there have been 6,000 cases since 1999 and numbers are steadily increasing.' The ticks are particularly active in late spring, early summer and autumn. Not all areas are infected, but the New Forest, South Downs, Thetford Forest, North York Moors, the Lake District and the Scottish Highlands are regarded as high risk areas.
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