Published: 00:01, 06 August 2018
A disease caused by a simple tick bite is leaving people across parts of Kent bed-ridden, struggling to walk and in some cases confined to a wheelchair.
Sufferers of Lyme disease have this week warned how easy it is to contract the bacterial infection, with recent severe cases reported in Canterbury.
Often misdiagnosed, it can have potentially disabling symptoms if left untreated.
Anne Ainley, 46, believes she was bitten by an infected tick while walking at Hambrook Marshes near Thanington.
“I was with the children and we went in the willow maze,” she explained.
“I didn’t even feel a tick bite – I wasn’t aware of it.”
But a month later Anne, who already suffers from an autoimmune disease, felt extremely fatigued and had pain in her back and limbs.
She also developed a ‘bull’s-eye’ rash typically associated with Lyme – although Public Health England (PHE) says the tell-tale mark is not seen in a third of patients.
“I feel lucky that I did [have the rash], as it helped my diagnosis,” Anne said.
“I’ve been very ill with it – it’s been horrible. This week I’ve barely been able to get out of bed.”
Anne is now encouraging people across the district to protect against Lyme disease.
“I didn’t realise it was prevalent here, where we live,” she said. “I feel panic-stricken that something so risky is on our doorstep and yet nobody’s talking about it.
“I will now be making sure my children are sprayed with insect repellent and that they’re checked over after walks.”
Last month Claire Barnes, also from Canterbury, caught Lyme disease while digging up a pathway at her Whitstable Road home.
“I got bitten by what I assumed were mosquitoes,” said Claire, who works at Canterbury Christ Church University.
“A week later I got a huge bullseye rash, was tired, achy and had hot and cold sweats.
“I got Lyme disease from a tick in the garden.”
PHE estimates there are about 3,000 UK diagnoses of the illness every year, although Lyme disease UK experts say this is likely to be an underestimate.
By getting early diagnoses, Anne and Claire managed to treat their illness in its primary stages with antibiotics.
But many are not so fortunate. Left untreated, the disease can result in cardiac and neurological problems.
Sarah Bignell, a vet in Faversham, was confined to a wheelchair and forced to give up work after she contracted Lyme disease in 2011.
But the disease is easily mistaken for other illnesses, and often gives false negative results in blood tests.
Tankerton-based author Andrew McGuiness lost the ability to read, write and even walk – and was misdiagnosed as having a stroke, multiple sclerosis and a brain tumour – before doctors eventually diagnosed him with the illness.
Had it been caught sooner, his recovery process could have been far more straightforward. Today, he still takes strong painkillers to cope with nerve damage caused by the disease that raged through his body for years.
“I had the classic bull’s-eye rash, but at the time I didn’t know what Lyme disease was and neither did my doctor,” explained Andrew, who in May released Anatomised – a fictional book based on his battle with Lyme disease, which he hopes will raise awareness of the illness.
“We need healthcare professionals and the public to learn more about the disease and how to prevent it.”