A consultant in public health medicine with the HSE's Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) has advised that the public should prevent tick bites in order to avoid Lyme disease.

Dr Paul McKeown said that people are most likely to be bitten by ticks in areas in the south and west of the country.

He said that ticks like to bite on arms and legs.

Dr McKeown advised people to wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts if walking through grassy areas, and check for ticks after a day out.

He said many people who are infected with Lyme disease - a bacterial infection spread by ticks - develop a distinctive 'bulls-eye' skin rash.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, he said that anyone with this rash should contact their GP because the disease can be treated effectively with antibiotics at this stage.

Dr McKeown said there are a number of infectious disease consultants in Ireland and every major hospital uses internationally recognised tests to identify Lyme diesase, so identification of the diseases is "never that problematic".

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is spread to human by infected ticks.

Ticks are small, spider-shaped creatures that feed on the blood of mammals, including humans.

The most common symptom of Lyme disease is a red skin rash that looks similar to a bullseye on a dartboard.

However, if Lyme disease is left untreated, further symptoms can follow including:

  • a high temperature (fever) of 38ºC (100.4ºF) or higher
  • muscle pain
  • joint pain and swelling
  • neurological symptoms, such as temporary paralysis of the facial muscles

A person with Lyme disease cannot spread disease to another through normal social contact.

How common is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is not a common infection. It is estimated that there are between 50 and 100 cases in Ireland each year.

The ticks that cause Lyme disease are commonly found in woodland and heathland areas.

This is because these types of habitats have a high number of tick-carrying animals, such as deer, mice and sheep.

Due to their breeding patterns, the tick population is highest in late spring and early summer.

Further information can be found on www.hpsc.ie