When it comes to Lyme disease — the potentially deadly infection spread by ticks — the medical community is in complete agreement that the sooner treatment starts, the better.
That’s because, without prompt administration of antibiotics, there is a greater chance that the bacteria introduced by the tick bite will spread around the body and cause permanent — even fatal — damage to the heart or brain.
But there’s a problem with that, because the symptoms typically don’t develop until between two and 30 days after a patient has been bitten. They usually start with a bullseye-shaped rash, which signals that the bacteria from the tick are spreading around the site of the bite. However, some people don’t develop this rash.
Furthermore, current blood tests to detect the bacteria that cause the condition can take several days to process.
But now comes new hope, with a blood test that gives results in just 15 minutes.
The 15-minute test, being developed by Scientists at Columbia University in New York, could revolutionise Lyme disease diagnosis which at present, due to current tests, can take at least 48 hours. It is caught from ticks, one pictured above, when they bite humans (stock image)
The test, which could be given in a GP’s surgery, could speed up diagnosis and improve patients’ chances of making a full recovery — as antibiotics can eradicate the infection if given soon enough.
Official figures show that there are around 2,000 to 3,000 cases of Lyme disease in the UK each year, although recent research, published in the journal BMJ Open, suggested the real figure is closer to 8,000, as GPs — often unsure whether or not a patient has Lyme disease — are failing to record it in their notes.
Public Health England says that cases have trebled since 2011, and there is some speculation that this is due to milder winters and damper summers — the perfect breeding conditions for ticks.
These tiny, spider-like bugs feed off sheep, foxes, deer, hedgehogs and birds and carry a bacterium called Borrelia — the cause of Lyme disease. The bacteria then pass through the bloodstream, attacking the joints and nervous system, before spreading to the brain or the heart.
Without antibiotics, in the first few days the bacteria can trigger a powerful attack by the immune system, which leads to harmful inflammation that can damage the heart’s rhythm. How quickly this happens varies, but it can occur within a fortnight. Former England rugby union star Matt Dawson, 47, needed specialist heart treatment after being