SHOCKING: Only three percent of general practitioners in the U.K. have had Lyme disease training

The vast majority of general practitioners in the United Kingdom are ill-equipped to handle Lyme disease. So much so that, according to Lyme Disease UK, a mere three percent of general practitioners have completed the free online course on Lyme disease being offered by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP). Taking into account the increasing number of Lyme disease cases — Caudwell LymeCo Charity puts them at as many as 45,000 a year — provides a grim picture of the situation in the U.K.

“Lives are being put at risk because the overwhelming majority of GPs are not updating their knowledge about Lyme disease,” Lyme Disease UK co-founder Natasha Metcalf told “Lyme can be a very debilitating illness if not diagnosed and treated early. [General practitioner] awareness is crucial to prevent further long-term, disabling disease.”

Lyme disease is an infection caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, a bacterial species belonging to the spirochete class. The bacteria is transmitted into humans through the bites of infected ticks. In the years since it initially came to prominence in the 1980s, Lyme disease has become known as “The Great Imitator”. This is because the symptoms of the disease — fatigue, headaches, and fever —are similar to those of many other diseases. One unique symptom is a distinctive bull’s-eye-shaped rash at the site of the tick bite, though it doesn’t manifest in all cases of Lyme disease.

If Lyme disease is spotted early on, then it can be treated with antibiotics, increasing the patients’ chances of returning to full health in time. Lyme disease left untreated, however, can lead to chronic, disabling health conditions such as joint pain, cognitive impairment, and heart problems. In some cases, Lyme disease can be fatal; in others, Lyme disease sufferers took their own lives.

As such, campaigners have pushed for more attention to the disease. Some campaigners have claimed that Lyme disease can often go undiagnosed by National Health Services (NHS) tests. Moreover, Lyme Disease UK stated that the condition can be confused for other diseases like multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia.

In response to the rise of Lyme disease, the RCGP has encouraged general practitioners — particularly those in the countryside — to take their module.

“Lyme disease is potentially a very serious disease that is increasingly found in rural areas of the U.K. and abroad, but isn’t often seen in urban locations,” said RCGP chair professor Helen Stokes-Lampard. “In the best interests of patient care, it makes sense for time-poor family doctors to tailor their learning according to the health priorities of patients in their local communities — whilst, of course, being aware of all important medical conditions.” (Related: Is 2017 the year of the Tick? Scientists predict a surge in Lyme disease cases)

How to avoid Lyme disease

The organization Lyme Disease UK has recommended tick bite prevention and removal as the best ways of avoiding this deadly ailment.

Ticks are common in outdoor areas with long grass and an abundance of leaf litter, so be sure to take extra precaution when in the woods, urban parks, and gardens. As much as possible, move through pathways where there is less tall grass. Reduce skin exposure by tucking pant cuffs into socks and wearing long-sleeved shirts; wearing light clothing works as well, as it can be easier to spot ticks this way. Once home, take a shower and check the body thoroughly for any signs of ticks.

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