‘Small bite, big threat’ is the warning on World Health Day

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Monday, April 7th, 2014
World Health Day is celebrated on 7th April every year and this year the topic is ‘small bite, big threat’. In Northern Ireland the small bite, big threat is tick-borne Lyme disease, so the Public Health Agency (PHA) is reminding the public that you can protect against Lyme disease by taking some simple preventive measures. Dr Michael Devine, Consultant in Health Protection, PHA, explained, “Ticks can carry Lyme disease, a serious and debilitating disease which may be transmitted to humans through their bite. “The earliest and most common symptom of Lyme disease is a pink or red circular rash that develops around the area of the bite, three to 30 days after someone is bitten. “The rash is often described as looking like a bull’s-eye on a dart board. You may also experience flu-like symptoms such as tiredness, headaches and muscle or joint pain. If Lyme disease is left untreated, further symptoms may develop months or even years later. Dr Devine continued, “Late spring, early summer and autumn are peak times for tick bites, which coincide with people venturing outdoors in the warmer weather. It’s important that people take preventive measures against tick bites and also look out for ticks after visiting affected areas.” Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne infectious disease in Europe. There were four cases of Lyme disease identified in Northern Ireland in 2012 and six cases in 2013. Although the number of Lyme disease cases in Northern Ireland is low compared with other parts of the UK, it is preventable and there are simple steps that can be taken to help reduce it even more. Ticks are tiny spider-like creatures, which feed on the blood of animals and sometimes people. If you are involved in outdoor activities which take you into the countryside, parks or gardens with wildlife such as squirrels and hedgehogs, you may be at risk of tick bites. Cases of Lyme disease are often acquired through recreational activities including dog walking, camping, hiking and mountain-biking, where tick exposure is more likely. The best way of preventing Lyme disease is to avoid being bitten when you are in grassy or woodland areas known to have a high tick population. The following precautions might help to prevent Lyme disease: • Wear a long-sleeved shirt; • Tuck your trousers into your socks; • Use insect repellent; • Check yourself for ticks; • Check your children and pets for ticks. Dr Devine added: “Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose and it is important to get medical advice if a rash or other symptoms develop within a few weeks of a tick bite, as early treatment can prevent progression to chronic disease.” Currently there are no vaccines to defend against tick-borne disease here. Therefore, the best defence is to avoid being bitten.
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