Lyme disease, or Lyme borreliosis, is an infectious disease transmitted to man through the bite of a tick infected with the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi.
How can tick bites be avoided?
The best prevention is to protect oneself against tick bites in case of a possible exposure like walking in the forest, especially between March and October:
- keep to beaten tracks in the forest
- avoid contact with high grasses and leaf litter
- wear clothes that cover your legs, arms and neck and that are secured at the extremities (put the ends of trouser legs into socks or shoes)
- possibly use repellents
- look for ticks after each possible exposure.
How can ticks be detected?
- Take a shower after exposure to ticks; this offers the opportunity to discover and remove them.
- Look particularly in skin folds (groin, arm pits, behind the ears, waist etc.) and on the scalp.
- Also carefully examine the animals that were with you in the forest, clothes and bags.
What should one do after a tick bite?
Remove the tick
- Remove the tick preferably with a special tick removal tool or with pointed tweezers, making sure not to crush the tick (risk of regurgitation).
- Do not apply ether, alcohol or antiseptic on the tick before removal as it can cause discomfort to the tick resulting in regurgitation and thus in increasing risk of transmission.
- If the head remains embedded in the skin, remove it with a splinter forceps ; if you don’t succeed, it doesn’t matter, the piece will be eliminated spontaneously.
- No tweezers available? Use your fingers to remove the tick by taking it between your nails as close to the skin as possible.
- Then disinfect the wound and the tweezers with an antiseptic agent and wash your hands.
Remember the bite
- Write down the date and place of the bite in an agenda.
- You can then inform your doctor if symptoms appear.
Keep an eye on the bite
- In the weeks following the bite, keep an eye on the area of the bite.
- If an expanding circular rash appears, consult your doctor immediately.
Can I prevent Lyme disease?
It is not recommended to take antibiotics to prevent Lyme disease.
Prophylactic antibiotic treatment is only considered in a context where over 20% of ticks are infected by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium, which is not the case in Belgium.
DID YOU KNOW? There is no vaccine available against Lyme disease at present, but the research is ongoing.
Ticks Net: report your tick bites!
Sciensano has set up an internet site where people can report tick bites.
The aim of the Ticks Net (in French, Dutch and German) project is to collect data about:
- the number of people bitten by ticks
- the regions in Belgium where tick bites are the most frequent
- the number of people who develop erythema migrans after a tick bite.
By gathering this data it will be possible to provide a more exact mapping of the periods and areas of activity of ticks in Belgium and this will help people who might be exposed to tick bites to take appropriate preventive measures.
4 reasons for not being alarmed
- Not every bite is infectious (in Belgium only about 10% of ticks are infected).
- An infected tick does not necessarily transmit the bacteria.
- An infected person does not necessarily develop the disease.
- Lyme disease can be treated effectively with antibiotics if it is diagnosed in time.