HL Deb 11 November 1991 vol 532 cc399-401

Lord Erroll of Hale asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to arrest the spread of Lyme disease within the United Kingdom.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I should say first that there is no evidence of natural transmission of Lyme disease from person to person. It is acquired by humans from ticks carried by deer, wild rodents and other animals. A leaflet and notices have been prepared to draw the disease to the attention of workers in areas where it is prevalent.

Lord Erroll

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Does he agree that the tick can be carried by dogs as well as by deer? Although the disease is not widespread at the moment, will he consider the preparation now of contingency plans to deal with the spread of the disease should the need arise?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, the disease can be carried by ticks on dogs, although a dog could not give the disease to a human. As regards my noble friend's second question about a contingency plan, the Public Health Laboratory Service keeps the disease under very close review and can always be called upon for help and advice on any communicable disease. However, at present there is no evidence of an increase in the disease among the population of this country.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, am I not right in thinking that the parasite which is the vector of the disease has spread to Richmond Park and to other suburban areas near London? What advice have the Government for persons frequenting those places, especially when they go there with their dogs?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, my noble and learned friend is absolutely right. The disease has spread to those areas although it may have been present for centuries. We advise that the presence of the disease should not spoil people's recreational enjoyment of the parks. The advice is not to expose flesh, and to wear long socks and long trousers. If symptoms are noticed one should tell the doctor that one has been in a tick-infested area. If the disease manifests itself, which is not always the case, it is easily treated with antibiotics.

Lord Desai

My Lords, can the Minister give figures on how many people have been affected by the disease? Can he also say what research has been carried out to ensure that it does not become a serious problem?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, my records show that the highest number of reported cases occurred in 1988 when 23 cases were reported. Last year there were 19 cases and in the current year there have been 19 cases to date. I would not expect many new cases this year because the tick feeds only in May and June and again in September and October, although I gather that there are some ticks about. We feel that the current level of research is adequate.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, what was the outcome in the cases of the people who caught the disease and were treated medically?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, those people who have caught the disease and suffered advanced symptoms have been cured.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, what is the disease and what happens to you if you catch it?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, it is a rare disease which is caused by bacteria which can be transmitted to people and animals as the result of a bite from a tick. The name is taken from a place in Connecticut in the United States where a number of cases were discovered. It has probably been present in this country for a very long time. The symptoms are those normally associated with flu. There can be complications which involve arthritis, slight paralysis and cardiac problems.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, the noble Lord has engaged the interest of the House. He referred to areas where the disease is prevalent. Interestingly, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, referred to one of those, which is in the London area. Can the noble Lord say where the disease is prevalent, apart from parks in this city?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, there are very few cases, although the figures I gave could be an underestimate because many people may have the disease without developing symptoms. There is a tick in this country called Ixodes ricinus. Wherever it is present and there are rodents the disease could exist. I should point out that if one is bitten by a tick the tick should be removed quickly because infection is unlikely to occur in less than two hours. Therefore vigilance when having a bath is sensible.

Lord Ironside

My Lords, can my noble friend say how many of the cases reported in this country were late effect cases which were not treated immediately the person was infected with the disease? I ask that because the symptoms can take some time to develop and may not appear until 10 years after a person has been infected by the tick. In such cases the effects can be very much more serious and include arthritis and neurological symptoms.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, the more serious effects are invariably the later effects. Most people would not notice that they had had the disease and perhaps would have thought that they had a mild form of flu. I was not aware that the effects could be apparent for up to 10 years. A feature of the disease is that it is detectable through the antibody that goes for the bacteria rather than through the presence of the bacteria itself.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, will the noble Lord ensure that instructions are issued on how to remove ticks? Those of us who have encountered ticks in our previous careers are aware that there are difficulties and that it is quite a serious problem.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I understand that advice has been given and that the important point is not to pull the tick out too quickly, leaving the mouth behind.

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