Scots are being warned about the dangers of a tick-borne bacterial infection amid a surge in calls to NHS call handlers.

May is traditionally tick season and NHS 24 said it was already experiencing a rise in calls from people concerned about bites, reports our sister title The Herald.

Scientists believe warmer temperatures driven by climate change have led to an increase in illnesses spread by ticks including Lyme Disease which can lead to serious, long-term health problems if it is not treated promptly.

A study by Harvard Medical School found environmental changes are leading to ticks thriving in a wider geographic area, appearing earlier and sticking around for longer. 

Charities that support people affected by the disease say there are still issues with GPs failing to recognise the symptoms while public health advice does not always stress that any rash should be investigated, not just the typical bullseye mark.

Transmission of Borrelia burgdorferi from infected ticks generally occurs after 36–48 hours of attachment.

The optimal time for successful antibiotic treatment is within the first four weeks. Without it, patients can be left with neurological problems, heart rhythm irregularities and chronic joint inflammation.

Glasgow Times:

In one case an elderly women, from the Scottish Highlands, was prescribed ointment for dermatitis despite having a bullseye rash on her leg and repeated visits to her GP, which led to her experiencing long-term symptoms.

NHS 24 say there is no need to seek help if you been bitten but have not developed any symptoms such as a "any rash" or fever, chills, fatigue, muscle aches or joint pain. 

The helpline said it would update images of rashes used in public information campaigns.

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Another woman, who responded to the warning by NHS 24 on social media, said it took six years to get a diagnosis for chronic late-stage Lyme disease while she was in Australia.

The condition left Hannah Green with 30 symptoms including fatigue, anxiety, and loss of balance and virtually bedridden for almost two years.

Glasgow Times:

Ms Green, who is a member of the Lyme Disease Uk Community group, said: “NHS information about is getting slightly better but still sadly misses the mark.

“The trouble with the advice not to see a doctor unless you have symptoms or develop a rash, is that the Lyme borrelia bacteria start off in the blood stream and then migrate into the body, tissues, joints, organs, nervous system etc to evade detection by the immune system.

“It’s a complicated issue as 40- 50% of people don’t get or see a rash or may get a rash that isn’t anything like a bullseye and many people can go on to develop Lyme symptoms, weeks, months or years after a bite but the NHS doesn’t currently recognise a ‘chronic’ Lyme infection.

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“This process can take weeks, months or years and trigger symptoms at that point onwards, which is when testing becomes unreliable and the infection gets progressively harder to treat.”

She said ticks can be analysed by private laboratories or vets to determine if they carry the infection.

She added: “Lyme support groups are full of thousands of people who were bitten by ticks, did nothing and have had their lives ruined, many are bed bound and seriously ill for years.”

Ms Green, who is from Ipswich, returned to competitive equestrian sport in March after a long recovery process. She now offers support to others affected by the disease.

Gael McNeill, from Dunfermline, says his son was one of the lucky ones. He received prompt treatment and fully recovered.

Glasgow Times:

He said: “It wasn’t the bullseye mark and it was a couple of days later so I presumed it was a rash, so did the pharmacy and doctor.

“It wasn’t till it kept spreading that they agreed to do more investigating. 

“We were lucky that after five days they realised it was related and he had antibiotics for approximately eight weeks. I think it was a really high dosage which resulted in some side effects but thankfully he appears okay now.”

According to NHS 24 the safest way to remove a tick is to use a removal tool, such as a tick twister or tick card or a pair of fine toothed tweezers, apply antiseptic and take a picture of the bite.

It is not advised to squeeze the tick or use alcohol or petroleum jelly to remove it.

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