It’s the disease that had Avril Lavigne ‘bedridden for five months’ and scuppered Bella Hadid’s dreams of becoming an Olympian - and yet most of us don’t seem to know what Lyme Disease is.
Earlier this week model du jour Gigi Hadid got emotional on the US show ‘Masterchef Celebrity Showdown’ when talking to judge Gordon Ramsey about her chosen charity for the cash prize of $25,000. Getting teary, she said “Not enough people know what Lyme disease is and the dangers of being bitten by an insect,” and went on to explain how her brother, sister (fellow catwalk queen Bella), her mother (Real Housewives of Beverley Hills star Yolanda Foster) are all affected.
Bella has previously talked about how the illness forced her to give up her career as a professional equestrian (she’d hoped to compete in the Olympics this year) and how it’s impacted almost every area of her life as she’s had to curb any semblance of a party lifestyle and still has to limit the amount of shows she does as a model as she gets exhausted easily.
She told the Evening Standard at the end of last year that her diagnosis was a ‘dark time’; “It affected my memory so I suddenly wouldn’t remember how to drive to Santa Monica from Malibu where I lived. I couldn’t ride. I was just too sick. And I had to sell my horse because I couldn’t take care of it.” Avril Lavigne seems to have had a similarly hard time of it and said “I thought I was dying,” as she was confined to bed, often too ill to take a shower.
So what do we need to know about Lyme Disease? (And more importantly how can we avoid catching it?)
What is it?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted to humans via ticks (those creepy little parasites who feed off the blood of mammals that you’ll know about if you own a dog or horse). It’s thought that only a small proportion of ticks carry the bacteria that cause the disease but each year there are an estimated 2000-3000 new cases in England and Wales.
What are the symptoms of Lyme Disease?
A distinctive circular rash is the first sign that many people develop around 3 to 30 days after getting bitten by the little critters whilst some will go on to develop several rashes over different parts of their body.
The early stages of Lyme Disease are often associated with flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, muscle and joint pain, headaches, fever and neck stiffness. So far so bad. More serious symptoms usually take a little longer to surface, developing several weeks (or even years) later if left untreated.
These include inflammatory arthritis, meningitis, heart problems, problems affecting the nervous system including numbness, paralysis of the facial muscles, memory issues and difficulty concentrating. A few people will go on to develop long-term symptoms known as post-infectious Lyme disease.
How is it treated?
The tell-tale rash after a tick bite can be treated with antibiotics whilst a blood test a few weeks later (the disease takes a while to show up) will determine whether or not you definitely have it. More severe symptoms can be treated with intravenous antibiotics but there is currently no clear consensus on the best treatment for post-infectious Lyme disease according to the NHS website.
How to prevent it
As there is no vaccine for Lyme disease avoidance is your best plan of attack. Ticks are mainly found in woodland and areas with overgrown grassland and vegetation so it pays to be vigilant when outdoors, regularly checking any exposed areas of skin as well as inspecting your whole body at the end of the day.
Ticks can’t fly or jump but they are experts at hitching a ride on clothing and finding a juicy patch of skin to chomp down on (some are very small so it can be hard to spot them.)
It’s thought that you’re more likely to become infected if the tick remains attached to your skin for more than 24 hours so if you do find one on you, can use a tick removing tool or tweezers to (very gently) pull it away from the skin (grip the tick as close to the skin as possible to avoid the head and body becoming separated and leaving the head in your skin). Cleanse with antiseptic after removal.