Lyme disease is a bacterial infection most often transmitted via a tick bite. Ticks can be found in every county across the UK – most often in woodland or heathland areas, but also in urban parks and gardens. Ticks can be as small as poppy seeds and bites are usually painless, so patients may not realise they have been bitten.
Symptoms of Lyme disease sometimes start with an erythema migrans (EM) rash, often described as a ‘bull’s-eye rash’, but not everybody with Lyme disease gets a rash. Left untreated or under-treated, the infection can spread anywhere in the body leading to around 70 recognised symptoms such as fatigue, muscle and joint pain, cardiac problems, neuropsychiatric problems, light and noise sensitivity and cognitive issues. The symptoms can be severe and difficult to cope with. Lyme disease is often referred to as ‘The Great Imitator’ as it can mimic many other conditions such as CFS/ME, fibromyalgia and MS.
Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose as current blood tests are unreliable. False negative and positive results are possible. There is also no test to show then the disease has been eradicated in the body.
Treatment presents difficulties as the guidance available to NHS doctors focuses solely on the diagnosis and treatment of acute Lyme disease and not on helping those who are chronically ill with the disease.
Some independent research shows that the Borrelia bacteria can persist, even after standard treatment for acute Lyme disease. It’s also thought, by some members of the medical and scientific community, that patients may carry other infections transmitted via tick bites which need treatment in their own right. Referred to as co-infections, these can complicate the symptom picture and affect treatment outcomes.
The high cost of Lyme
Many patients, frustrated by the lack of care they receive on the NHS, turn to private doctors and clinics, some of which are overseas. However, private treatment for Lyme disease is often expensive and paying for it may present additional difficulties to patients unable to work or access benefits.