British businessman John Caudwell has revealed that his entire family has been infected with Lyme disease. Caudwell, his former wife, Kate McFarlane, their two daughters, Rebekah, and Rhiannon, and their son Rufus have all tested positive for the tick-borne illness.
“It’s completely devastating. I have no idea how it’s happened to my family,” the founder of Phones4U told the Daily Mail. “When more of the family got diagnosed, I started looking into it. It could be affecting millions in Britain, it could be an epidemic.”
A number of high profile celebrities and politicians have reportedly contracted the disease in recent years, including Avril Lavigne, Alec Baldwin and George W Bush.
What is Lyme disease?
It is a bacterial infection spread by the bite of an infected tick. The disease can be contracted anywhere where infected ticks are present, typically in woodland, grassland and parks in the UK, Europe and North America.
Lyme disease has many different symptoms and is therefore often difficult to diagnose. Early signs can include a distinctive circular rash, fever, headaches and neurological symptoms. There are up to 3,000 new confirmed cases of the disease in England and Wales each year, according to Public Health England.
How serious is it?
If the disease is allowed to progress, serious symptoms like meningitis, facial paralysis and heart failure can develop. In some cases, people with Lyme disease go on to develop long-term symptoms similar to those of fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome, the NHS warns. This is known as post-infectious Lyme disease.
What can you do?
There is no vaccination for the disease and the NHS advises that the best way to prevent the illness is to be aware of the risks and take sensible precautions when visiting areas where ticks are likely to be found, such as keeping to footpaths, wearing appropriate clothing and using insect repellent. If you discover a tick on your skin, remove it immediately and wash with soap and water and apply an antiseptic cream. People are more likely to become infected if the tick remains attached to their skin for more than 24 hours.
If the disease is diagnosed early enough, it can be treated effectively with a course of antibiotics. However, there is currently no clear medical consensus on the treatment of post-infectious Lyme disease.