South of Scotland MSP, Colin Smyth has issued a warning about the dangers of Lyme Disease and backed calls for an increase in awareness of the condition.

The local MSP was speaking during a debate in the Scottish Parliament where he highlighted recent cases in Dumfries and Galloway of Lyme Disease, an infection that can be spread to humans by infected ticks, usually found in woodland and heath areas.

He has also given his backing to a Parliamentary petition launched by a former Dumfries woman, Janey Cringean, who suffered from the appalling impact of the disease after being misdiagnosed.

Speaking during the debate in the Scottish Parliament Colin Smyth MSP said:

Lyme disease is a growing problem in Scotland. The number of diagnosed cases has increased from fewer than 30 in 1996 to 220 in 2015, and GPs estimate that only 20 to 40 per cent of cases are referred. With a growing numbers of cases, it is an appropriate time to re-evaluate our approach to research, identification, treatment and public knowledge surrounding Lyme disease.

In the south of Scotland-the region that I am proud to represent and to have been brought up in-we are blessed with beautiful countryside and an abundance of woodland and open spaces. In that area, it is still very much the case that children spend most of their time playing with friends outside, and families enjoy the benefits-including the health benefits-of spending time outdoors, often while walking their family pets.

However, that can bring danger-in this case, danger in the shape of tiny blood-sucking ticks that feed off animals and humans. The consequences can be nasty.

During the recent spell of good weather that we enjoyed in May, two young boys from Collin near my hometown of Dumfries contracted Lyme disease after playing in a park close to their homes. The accounts from the boys’ mothers were truly harrowing. One of the mothers said that her five-year-old son, Aaron, “woke up one morning and his face was totally paralysed”.

Aaron was eventually diagnosed with Lyme disease and needed an magnetic resonance imaging scan to rule out more severe neurological problems. In March, the second of the two boys, Dylan, who was just eight years old, had to undergo surgery to have ticks removed, and was given a three-week course of adult antibiotics for treatment. However, he was back in the accident and emergency department last month, after a further tick bite made his back swell up badly.

Of course, children cannot be wrapped in cotton wool and denied the pleasure of playing outside, but we can do more to make the public aware of the danger of ticks and how to minimise the risk of bites by staying on paths, using a repellent, covering up when in long grass, checking themselves and their children and pets regularly for ticks when walking in a high-risk area and quickly removing ticks correctly and quickly when they are found.

We can also do more to raise awareness among medical professionals to ensure that the collection of symptoms of Lyme disease can be recognised at the earliest possible opportunity in order to avoid serious complications.

Although testing is available, concerns have been raised about the effectiveness of such testing. Lyme Disease Action has stated:

“There are no conclusive tests for Lyme Disease currently in routine use in the UK that will accurately diagnose Lyme Disease or distinguish from past infection.

The similarities in symptoms between Lyme disease and many other conditions, and the co-infection that often comes with being bitten by ticks, also cause difficulties with diagnosis. However, if Lyme disease is diagnosed in a timely manner-ideally, when early symptoms such as a bull’s-eye rash and flu-like symptoms are noticed-and it has not developed, it is, thankfully, straightforward to treat with antibiotics. It is therefore imperative that testing and public awareness of Lyme disease are improved”.

Colin has also giving his backing to a Parliamentary petition by Janey Cringean whose life was massively impacted by the disease.  Janey, who is originally form Dumfries, was bitten by a tick while she was walking in a West Lothian park in 2004. It was several years of attending her doctor with symptoms such as vomiting, a severe rash blue hands, high blood pressure and excruciating headaches before she was finally tested for Lyme disease and eventually diagnosed. She was prescribed massive doses of antibiotics which she’s now been on for 10 years with just a one-year break in between.

Colin added:

“I’m also backing the petition by Janey Cringean that will come before the Scottish Parliament’s Petition’s Committee calling for improve testing and treatment for Lyme Disease. This disease has been absolutely devastating for Janey. She is determined to ensure others don’t have to go through the decade of misery she faced when she was misdiagnosed for so long”

Janey Cringean said:

“Recent research has proved that the bacterium which causes Lyme Disease is persistent and can evade antibiotics. Current methods of testing are woefully inadequate and do not cover recently discovered species. Medical and political leaders in Scotland need to ensure that the recent acknowledgement of such complexities is followed by a change of policy regarding treatment of tick-borne infections which is of benefit to patients; that education of the public, GPs and consultants is increased and brought up-to-date; and that more resources are put into tackling a condition which is increasing in prevalence, is capable of destroying lives, has a great danger of negatively affecting the tourist industry, and is already placing a burden on the wider economy of Scotland”.<

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