By Grace Riley
This week we were able to help a Hunter Valley man who was bitten by a tick and developed the classic rash seen in Lyme disease.
Called an Erythema migrans (EM), it’s a common rash seen in many patients who contract Lyme disease. In fact, it’s such a distinctive sign it is considered ‘pathognomonic’, that means it’s a specific characteristic of Lyme disease; a diagnostic feature of the illness.
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You might be scratching your head in puzzlement though, because our government repeatedly tells us we don’t have Lyme disease in Australia. So how does it happen that we don’t have the disease, but we do have the rash?
The Hunter region in NSW has a long history of association with Lyme disease dating as far back as 1980 when one of the first cases of Lyme disease was reported in the Medical Journal of Australia. The patients EM rash was well described in the literature and an additional 6 cases were also reported in the same article.
In 1991 Wills and Barry’s research also focused on ticks collected from the Hunter Valley area. It showed that 42% of the ticks studied were positive for Borrelia burgdorferi, the organism responsible for Lyme disease.
Inexplicably for 38 years, we have managed to deny the disease exists despite evidence to the contrary. The impact of this repeated denial means that there are no public health warnings about the dangers of tick bites. Each year we see more people, who are completely unaware of the dangers of tick bite, become tick bite casualties and need immediate and urgent treatment.
Sadly, there are many more people in the Hunter region who’ve come forward to tell their story to the Maitland Mercury about their debilitating experience of living with Lyme disease, and their slow and expensive journey to recovery.
The onset of spring and warmer weather brings tick season and with it a whole lot of people and pets being exposed to tick bites. The best way to avoid Lyme disease is to avoid the tick.
So here are our best tips for prevention:
- When outdoors, wear light colour long sleeve shirts, enclosed shoes, long pants, & tuck the pants into your socks, we know it’s a bit daggy but it’s safer.
- Repel ticks on skin and clothing by using an insect repellent that contains DEET and permethrin treated clothes.
- After you come inside, do a tick check and include your pets.
- Check your clothes, hands, hairline, neck, & behind your ears for ticks.
- On pets, start at their nose and work down to their tail, taking care to look in all the warm spots, especially in ears and between the pads on paws.
- If you find ticks on your clothes, pick them off with tweezers and kill them prior to disposing of them. Or you can keep them in a plastic vial, or sealed snap lock bag to be tested.
If you find you’ve been bitten by a tick:
- Remove the tick carefully with long nosed tweezers or purpose made tick removal tools.
- Avoid squeezing the tick.
- Do not cover the tick in methylated spirits, do not rub alcohol, bi-carbonate of soda, Vaseline, freezing spray or any other substance or do not burn it with a match – this can make the tick release bacteria into your blood stream.
- Consider storing the tick that bit you in a plastic vial or a sealed snap lock bag marked with the date.
Help educate others about the dangers of tick bites by sharing our prevention tips.