Couple's lives devastated by Lyme disease picked up in Thetford Forest
PUBLISHED: 08:15 31 July 2019 | UPDATED: 07:25 02 August 2019
A couple whose lives have been ruined by Lyme disease are unable to get married because of the devastating impact on their day-to-day lives.
Laura Bradley and Martin Edwards spoke abut their ordeal as it was revealed Thetford Forest was one of the most high risk places in the country for catching Lyme disease - which is where Miss Bradley thinks she was first bitten by a tick.
The couple have been together for 16 years but the condition - which they cannot receive specialist help for on the NHS - has stopped them leading a normal life and forced them to move in with Miss Bradley's parent in Tasburgh.
A study of GP records released on Tuesday found cases of Lyme disease have "increased rapidly" in the UK and may be three times more common than the current annual estimate.
Thetford Forest was one of the areas deemed high risk due to having a particularly high population of ticks.
Miss Bradley first noticed symptoms when she was eight, and now the pair have been forced to give up work and Miss Bradley, 33, said while they would like to get married they were not well enough to plan a wedding, or to attend one.
She said: "We can't really look after ourselves."
Over the years Miss Bradley got more and more symptoms from hallucinations, to flu-like symptoms, and even psychosis. She said: "I was progressively getting worse with each symptom getting stronger. I started getting a vice-like grip feeling in the base of my skull where I could barely move my eyes otherwise I would be sick, and I did projectile vomit on many occasions because of this pain."
By the time Miss Bradley turned 23 she was crying every day before she got out of bed. She said: "I was desperately ill, not able to work, and my health was still deteriorating to the point where I was bed-bound and could not feed myself or get a drink of water."
Mr Edwards, 32, was diagnosed in 2015. He said: "Although I could see that some of my symptoms matched those Laura was experiencing we had no idea that Lyme disease was transmissible from person to person. My test result came back positive for Lyme disease."
There is a debate over whether the condition can be transmitted through blood, tissue and organ donation, along with sexual transmission.
A study from 2014 showed the Borrelia spirochetes that cause Lyme disease could be found in the genital secretions of men and women, leading the researchers to argue that Lyme disease may be transmitted through sex.
But more research is needed and Lyme Disease UK says: "Blood, tissue and organ donation, along with sexual transmission are all cause for concern, but again there is not enough research being done in this area."
Mr Edwards added: "My results were a relief because I finally knew what was wrong with me, but they were also terrifying because I had seen the effect that the disease had had on Laura."
The pair are now trying to fundraise for stem cell treatment in Germany. To donate visit bit.ly/2KbegDm
What is Lyme disease?
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The infection is spread to humans if they are bitten by an infected tick. The tiny spider-like creatures are found in woodland and heath areas throughout the UK and in other parts of Europe and North America.
Not everyone who gets bitten by a tick will be infected with Lyme disease as only a small proportion carry the bacteria which causes the condition. A tick bite can only cause Lyme disease in humans if the tick has already bitten an infected animal.
Some people get flu-like symptoms instead of the rash, and if it is not treated promptly with antibiotics it can cause pain and swelling in joints, nerve and heart problems and trouble concentrating for years after.
Former England rugby captain Matt Dawson was bitten by a tick in 2016 and said he was struggling to exercise as much he would like two years after.
Study author Dr Victoria Cairns, a retired medical statistician from Oxford, said the disease has often been called "the great imitator" because it mimics other symptoms.
She said: "This is really just showing there are many more cases than previously, officially estimated.
"I think GPs certainly know about it, the issue is really for the public to know so that they go to the GP to get diagnosed.
"Because that's really the big problem with Lyme disease - some people don't get diagnosed quick enough and then they go on to get long-term problems."
What are the symptoms?
Many people with early symptoms of Lyme disease develop a circular red skin rash around a tick bite, often described as looking like a bullseye on a dart board. The rash can appear up to three months after being bitten and usually lasts for several weeks. Most rashes appear within the first four weeks after being bitten.
Not everyone will get a rash, and some will experience flu-like symptoms in the early stages, such as a high temperature, or feeling hot and shivery, as well as headaches, muscle and joint pain, tiredness and loss of energy.
Lyme disease may be difficult to diagnose as people can have common and unspecific symptoms, like a headache or fever, and they may not notice or remember a tick bite. But if left untreated it can lead to conditions such as meningitis or heart failure.
How is it diagnosed and treated?
Anyone who thinks they may have Lyme disease should visit their GP, who can carry out two types of blood test to help confirm or rule it out.
If confirmed, patients will be prescribed a three-week course of antibiotics. Most people will get better, although this can take several months. A small proportion will continue to have symptoms, such as tiredness, aches and loss of energy, which can last for several years.
What precautions can be taken to prevent it?
The South of England and the Scottish Highlands have been earmarked as high risk areas for Lyme disease. Exmoor, the New Forest and other rural areas of Hampshire, the South Downs, parts of Wiltshire and Berkshire, parts of Surrey and West Sussex, Thetford Forest in Norfolk, the Lake District, the North York Moors and the Scottish Highlands are all known to have a particularly high population of ticks.
Covering up bare skin while walking outdoors, using insect repellent, staying on paths whenever possible, and wearing light-coloured clothing so ticks are easier to spot and brush off are all ways to reduce the risk of being bitten.