The number of reported cases of lyme disease in England and Wales has increased for the fifth year running, according to figures from the Health Protection Agency.
In 2008, there were 813 reported cases of the disease in England and Wales, a slight increase on the 794 cases reported in 2007.
The number of cases has risen steadily since 2003, when 292 cases were reported to the HPA. The agency said this is partly due to an increase in awareness of the disease, and improvements in the way cases are reported.
Lyme disease is contracted by being bitten by an infected tick, the main feeding hosts for which are small mammals, such as field mice and voles, and birds including blackbirds and pheasants.
Infections are more likely to occur during late spring, early summer and autumn, and many are contracted while people are participating in outdoor activities, such as mountain biking, trekking and camping.
The most common symptom of lyme disease is a slowly expanding rash which spreads out from a tick bite. Other symptoms include tiredness, headaches, and aches and pains in the muscles.
However, if the infection is not treated, more serious complications can occur, warned Mike Catchpole, deputy director of the HPA’s centre for infections.
‘If the infection is untreated the bugs may spread in the bloodstream and to other parts of the body, including the nervous system, joints and other organs, and some patients may develop complications caused by tissue damage,’ he said.
‘It is important that infections are recognised and treated at an early stage to avoid the risk of developing these more serious complications,’ he added.
For more information on Lyme disease, go to the HPA website.