Getting involved in a Young Social Innovators project has
led to Beara students learning about a disease that is now occurring six times faster than Aids, writes Siobhán Cronin
A GROUP of Transition Year students from Scoil Phobail Bhéara, Castletownbere have said there is now an ‘alarming rate’ of people being diagnosed with Lyme disease in Beara.
The students are hoping to raise awareness about the dangers of the disease, which is now occuring six times faster than Aids.
They have based a Young Social Innovators project on the disease, which is spread by tick bites and have named themselves LymeLight.
Their incentive for doing this project was the alarming rate of people diagnosed in their local area, and the lack of awareness and education surrounding this condition.
The students said they have noticed that a number of staff and students in the school have had the disease or are currently having treatment.
They claim that an increase in the local deer population equates to an increased risk of infection.
They are hoping that by highlighting the issue they may be able to prevent the further spread of the disease.
And they also wish to highlight the risk of tick bites to the many tourists who visit the area, including walkers, cyclists and sight-seers.
Lyme disease is a disease transmitted by the bite of an infected tick. These ticks are common in woodland and grassland areas, near where deer – the most popular carriers of ticks – lie.
A bulls-eye rash around the bitten area is the most common indicator that a person may have contracted Lyme disease, however fatigue, insomnia and numbness are just some of the symptoms surrounding this condition.
Children are at the highest risk of contracting the disease and are more vulnerable to central nervous system infections.
Transmission of Lyme Disease and other infections can take place in a matter of minutes, particularly if the tick is not removed properly.
Lyme Disease is called The Great Imitator as it has often been mistaken for ALS, MS, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, autism, and other illnesses – making it very difficult to diagnose correctly.
Studies show that standard laboratory tests miss approximately half of actual cases, leading to misdiagnosis and an infection that is more difficult to treat.
Lyme Disease has six times more new cases each year than HIV/AIDS and fewer than 50% of patients with Lyme Disease recall the tick bite or any rash.
There are no tests available to prove that the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease has been eradicated or that the patient is cured after treatment.
The most common carrier is the blacklegged deer tick. These ticks, often the size of a poppy seed, can leave an undetectable bite.
Lyme disease is a world-wide infectious disease and has been found on every continent, but Antarctica.
The students have also discovered that there is no legal requirement on doctors to report cases of Lyme disease to the HSE and currently there is no vaccine available here.
Lyme disease can affect anyone, but is commonest amongst runners, hill-walkers, hikers, campers and others whose leisure activities or work takes place in heath land or light woodland areas, or brings them in contact with certain animals, eg deer. As a result, summer and autumn is the period when most cases occur.
The Beara students undertaking this project were shocked at the lack of awareness that there is for Lyme disease in Ireland.
They learnt that it is not common practice to test for this condition in this country, and as a result the condition is often misdiagnosed as arthritis or fibromyalgia, which share similar symptoms.
Patients have to ask doctors for separate blood tests for Lyme disease. This is alarming in contrast to other countries, such as Germany, in which it is standard practice to be tested for Lyme disease. Newly trained doctors in Ireland are not trained to test for Lyme disease, and this is highly likely to be a contributing factor for the amount of misdiagnoses.
The students plan to propose a list of recommendations to the HSE, and local authorities in Ireland, particularly parks and walking trails, where one is most likely to obtain a tick bite.