Huge swathes of countryside marked high risk for Lyme disease due to tick infestations

Huge swathes of stunning English countryside are being invaded - by killer ticks.

The South East of England has been been earmarked as high risk areas for Lyme disease - a bacterial infection spread by infected tick bites.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said West Sussex and the South Downs to have higher prevalence of infected ticks which cause the disease.

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It is estimated there are 2,000 to 3,000 new cases of Lyme disease in England and Wales each year - and that number keeps going up year on year, as weather conditions are allowing biting tick populations to explode.

If untreated the disease can be fatal, and the health body is now calling for a study into the condition in the UK.

NICE has also set out a series of recommendations on how the condition can be assessed and treated.

These include diagnosing people who have a distinctive rash - often described as looking like a bulls eye on a dart board - without needing to refer them for further tests.

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A new draft guideline from NICE said: “Infected ticks are found throughout the UK and Ireland and although some areas appear to have a higher prevalence of infected ticks, prevalence data are incomplete.

“Particularly high-risk areas are the south of England and Scottish Highlands but infection can occur in many areas.”

Last month former England rugby captain Matt Dawson underwent heart surgery after being bitten by a tick in a London park.

The 44-year-old developed feverish symptoms early last year and was later diagnosed with Lyme disease.

Dawson had to endure 18 months of treatment.

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When former England rugby player Matt Dawson was bitten by a tick in a London park early last year, it caused a bacterial infection to spread through his body.

He said: “I had two days where I felt awful. Very feverish, on the sofa, crashed out.

“It was a really scary time for me and my family. Such a tiny creature caused me to end up needing heart surgery.”

Eventually he went to hospital where he was diagnosed with Lyme disease.

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Former US President George W Bush, Hollywood actor Alec Baldwin and comedian Ben Stiller have also suffered from the disease.

Professor Saul Faust from Nice said: “Lyme disease may be difficult to diagnose as people can have common and unspecific symptoms, like a headache or fever and they may not notice or remember a tick bite.

“Our draft guidance will give GPs and hospital doctors clear advice on how to diagnose if they think Lyme disease is a possibility.”

It said better information on spotting the symptoms and dealing with the management of Lyme disease both in hospitals and GP services will mean services can be tailored to suit those infected.

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