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Lyme disease: a growing UK threat?

02 September 2015
10 mins read
Volume 6 · Issue 7


Lyme disease, caused by the spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi remains the primary tick borne pathogen affecting dogs and people in the UK. Human cases are increasing year by year and dogs have been found to be carrying ticks infected with B.burgdorferi. This article reviews the epidemiology of Lyme disease in the UK, zoonotic risk, diagnosis and treatment. It also discusses practical disease prevention and the role of veterinary nurses in advising pet owners in this respect.

The primary tick borne pathogen in UK dogs is Borrelia burgdorferi, the cause of Lyme disease (Smith et al, 2012). While there are some UK diseases with zoonotic potential that remain unrecognised by the public, there are some that have gained recognition through cases in the media, internet forums and word of mouth. Lyme disease fits very much into the latter category and veterinary professionals are likely to face increasing numbers of enquiries regarding the risk that Lyme disease poses, both to dogs and their owners.

The incidence of reported disease in the UK human population is increasing, but it is unclear whether there is any similar increase in the incidence of canine disease. Certainly, there is increasing opportunity for dogs to be exposed to infection. Ixodes spp. ticks which carry Borrelia spp. are endemic in the UK and have a seasonal peak in numbers in spring and autumn months. While these peaks still occur, ticks are now commonly seen all year round in most parts of the UK (Smith et al, 2011) providing potential exposure of dogs to the parasite throughout the year. This has led to the risk of a dog encountering an infected tick in the UK being approximately 1 in 200 over each tick season (Smith et al, 2012). Therefore, there is a need for veterinary professionals to give accurate advice to clients who are at particular risk to enable them to keep themselves and their pets safe. The veterinary nurse plays a vital role in this regard as part of the practice team, both in clinics and at reception.

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