A little-known bacterial infection – caused by a bite from the seemingly innocent ‘tick' – is now spreading six times faster than Aids and many cases have been detected locally
A GROWING number of people in West Cork are suffering from a debilitating illness, resulting in calls for a major information campaign on the subject.
The numbers of people diagnosed with Lyme disease – a bacterial infection – in West Cork and South Kerry has resulted in the region being identified as a hotspot for this tick-borne disease.
Rory Jackson, 57, from Skibbereen, got a tick bite on his stomach while camping at Lough Hyne in 2010, but thought nothing of it.
He said: ‘It wasn’t until a few months later that I began to feel unwell. It all began for me with feeling very tired, so tired that I could hardly get out of bed. It got so bad that I almost fell off a boat I was working on. I had aches and pains all over and finally went to the local GP,’ he said.
A bite from a tick infected with Lyme disease, known as Borreliosis, leaves a red ‘doughnut’ shape or ‘bullseye’ rash and, without treatment, can attack joints, heart, and the nervous system. Fatigue, insomnia and numbness are just some of the other symptoms which are key indicators of the condition.
However, in Rory’s case, the diagnosis wasn’t instant, and he just knew he wasn’t getting any better.
‘I was abroad when one of my friends asked if I had been tested for Lyme disease,’ Rory said. ‘I didn’t even know what it was, but when I got home I asked my GP to do the test and it came back positive.’
Rory was put on a very high dose of antibiotics for over six months and while the drugs worked for a while, today he is still suffering with almost constant joint pain and fatigue.
Julia Farrell lives with her husband and two young girls on their farm in Eyeries.
‘Living on a farm you see ticks all the time, on the cattle or on the cats and dogs,’ Julie said. ‘I don’t know exactly where or when I was bitten, but back in 2014 I began to feel really unwell. I had severe neck pain and there were days when I couldn’t physically move. The most frightening episode happened when we were on holidays in Portugal. I tried to get up one morning and no matter how hard I tried, I simply couldn’t move.
‘When I got home, I asked the GP to test for Lyme Disease and the results came back positive,’ Julie said.
Julie began a course of antibiotics, and like Rory, got some initial relief.
‘While I was taking the antibiotics, and for about a month after the course finished, I felt great. But that feeling soon wore off and the pains returned. Some days are better than others, but Lyme disease never really goes away. We need a major awareness campaign, especially for children. The quicker you get tested, the better chance you have of controlling the disease.’
A nationwide awareness campaign is badly needed, according to teacher Marie Murphy and the transition year students at Scoil Phobail Bhéara in Castletownbere.
‘There are numerous students here in school who have tested positive for Lyme disease,’ Marie said. ‘However, I would not be surprised to discover that there are a lot more who have the disease and have been treated for other conditions, as they have not been tested for Lyme disease.’
Marie and her students took part in the Young Social Innovators project when they conducted research into the spread of Lyme Disease on the Beara Peninsula.
‘There is an alarming rate of people being diagnosed with Lyme disease in Beara. The students wanted to raise awareness about the dangers of the disease, which is now occuring six times faster than Aids,’ Marie said.
Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada is also calling on the government to immediately launch an awareness campaign, especially in schools, to highlight the dangers of Lyme disease.
‘Due to its nature, Lyme disease is mainly spread in rural areas with almost half of the diagnosed cases in 2016 coming from Kerry and Cork,’ Ms Ní Riada said. ‘One of the biggest dangers of the condition is that it often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, leaving the disease free to take greater hold in the body and develop into its most serious and debilitating stages.’