Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. The bacterium is carried in the gut of certain ticks. If these infected ticks attach to the human body they can slowly feed and over time may transmit the bacterium to their human host. The disease is not spread from person to person but animals may carry infected ticks. The tick is a vector of the disease.
Ticks live in forested areas, heavily wooded, tall grass or brush, leaf litter and shrubs. Ticks are active from spring to autumn and can be found in both urban and rural environments.
Who may be at Risk?
Outdoor workers can be at risk of Lyme disease if they work at sites where infected ticks are present or they are in contact with animals which have infected ticks. Occupations that may be at risk of acquiring Lyme disease include:
- Agriculture workers
- Forestry workers
- Park or wildlife management
- Grounds keepers
- Landscape workers
- Land surveyors
- Construction workers
- Local Authority workers
- Rural Guides or outdoor pursuits instructors – hiking, hunting, fishing.
The Symptoms of Lyme Disease
The first symptom of Lyme disease is often a rash that can appear 3 to 30 days after the tick bite. Other symptoms include fever, chills, headaches, stiff neck, fatigue, muscle aches and joint pains. Occasionally a severe form of Lyme disease can develop and the heart, joints or the nervous system can be affected. If recognised early, Lyme disease can be easily treated with antibiotics. If unrecognised and untreated, chronic conditions may occur.
Preventing Lyme Disease
- Carry out a risk assessment: determine whether workers may be exposed to the bacterium via tick bites and at risk of developing Lyme disease.
- Avoid/decrease the risk of tick bites – avoid brushy, overgrown, grassy and woody areas, especially in spring and early summer when young ticks are feeding.
- Use personal protective measures: Prevent infection by wearing long sleeves shirts fitted at the wrist, long trousers tucked into socks or work boots and a hat. Light coloured clothing assists in spotting ticks. Wear protective gloves when handling dead animals.
- Perform tick checks: Check clothing every 3-4 hours for ticks and also at the end of the working day. Check any equipment also.
- Remove ticks early: Prompt removal of attached ticks (within 24 hours) can decrease the risk of infection. If a tick is found remove it using tweezers or a tick removal tool by gripping it close to the skin and pulling it away without twisting or crushing the tick. Wash the area as soon as possible with soap and water and apply an antiseptic cream. Check for a rash over the next few weeks and consult your doctor if a rash or other symptoms develop.
- Train and educate workers on the risks that ticks pose and how to avoid them. Workers should be able to recognise and know symptoms, sources of infection and prevention measures.
- Notify your employer if you find a tick on you, so that other workers are made aware of the hazard.
Health Service Executive Lyme Disease
Health Protection Surveillance Centre Lyme Disease
Tick Talk Ireland