More and more people are reportedly suffering from Lyme disease, tallying to more than 1,000 cases in the UK last 2013 according to recent surveys.
With the number of Lyme disease patients shooting up to four times more in the last 12 years, the infection is becoming a significant health threat.
Experts believe this is due to the increased number of the infectious agent's carriers, the black-legged ticks and warmer climates that prolong tick life span.
"The number of ticks is increasing all the time and quite dramatically," said bite protection expert Howard Carter, who found ticks in at least three-fourths of all of London's parks.
He added that people should be made aware of the potentially devastating effects a Lyme disease-carrying tick bite can bring.
"If you are bitten it is not a little itch that goes away after a couple of days, it can be life-changing or even fatal," Carter said.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Lyme disease is caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria transmitted by an infected tick.
Early symptoms of the disease include headache, fever, a skin rash and fatigue. Left untreated, the disease can spread to the heart and joints, and can even produce mental problems like depression and mood swings. Some patients even report feeling lethargic or suicidal.
The problem with diagnosing Lyme disease, however, is that the screening process for the condition is not very effective. There are reports of some patients who once tested negative for Lyme disease but were found to be positive after a repeat exam.
Even more alarming is that there still are doctors who are unaware or do not consider the possibility of Lyme disease, even among areas where ticks are surprisingly common.
Health experts believe that the government needs to refine the current approach for handling Lyme disease diagnosis, care and education.
"The majority of Lyme disease sufferers will say the system didn't work for them ... and for some that means it's too late and they have been left with a life-threatening condition," said Dr. James Logan of he London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. "We need a review of the system."
Ian Burgess, director of Insect Research and Development at Cambridge, found that more than 30,000 cases go undiagnosed annually.
"There is a widespread ignorance of the risks which are very real," Burgess said.
One of the best ways to avoid catching Lyme disease is to stay away from outdoor areas where ticks are aplenty like parks and woodlands.
Other ways include applying insect repellent, bathing as soon as possible (preferably within two hours) after coming back from the outdoors, inspecting gears for ticks and drying clothes in high heat for at least one hour to kill the remaining insects.
Photo: John Tann | Flickr