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Lyme disease more likely to affect older white women in affluent areas


Patients with Lyme disease in hospitals in England and Wales are more likely to be white, female and living in more affluent areas, according to new research funded by the NIHR.

The research, funded by NIHR’s Health Protection Research Unit in Emerging and Zoonotic Infections, looked at data from 2,361 patients and found that cases of Lyme disease are increasing.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection carried by ticks, with around 3,000 cases each year in the UK.

The new study was published in the journal BMC Health and used anonymised health records to identify patients who had been diagnosed with Lyme disease. Nearly two thirds (60%) were women or girls, and for patients whose ethnicity was recorded, 96% were white.

Dr John Tulloch, from the NIHR HPRU in Emerging and Zoonotic Infections, said ‘The reasons for this are hard to explain, but could be related to differences in health seeking behaviour between women and men and an increased exposure to tick habitats due to leisure activities in children and older people, as opposed to occupational exposure in younger adults. The apparent association between ethnicity and Lyme disease is most likely due to sociocultural and behavioural reasons, for example living in areas that are more likely to see a higher abundance of disease-transmitting ticks.’

The data also showed that the number of new cases of Lyme disease is increasing, up from 0.08 cases for every 100,000 people in 1998 to 0.53 cases in 2015. It’s not clear why this is, but it could be linked to better awareness among the public and doctors. Dr Tulloch emphasises that for the majority of people the risk is likely to be very low.

The highest number of Lyme disease cases were found in the south west of England, including the New Forest and East Dorset.

Dr Tullock explained ‘Being aware of the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease is important so that patients can receive early diagnosis and treatment from their family doctor. Symptoms typically develop up to three weeks after being bitten by a tick and include a spreading circular red rash or flu-like symptoms. When patients visit their GP or call NHS 111, it is important to tell them where patients have been and if they remember being bitten.’

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NHS information on Lyme disease