'Lyme disease nearly made me come indoors,' says Ray Mears

Survival guru highlights tick-borne diseases

Ray Mears, the British survival guru, has revealed how a tick bite led to a 14-year battle with Lyme disease that nearly ended his career.

Mears, who presents television shows including Survival and Wild Britain, was speaking at the start of Tick Awareness Week. He described how a tick bite led to excruciating back pain and declining health that almost forced him to give up work. "The pain I had in my back was so bad that if I sneezed I almost blacked out with the pain," he said. "I was getting to the point where I was going to have to think about doing something different for work... I don't know when I contracted whatever it was, but I think it was Lyme disease. I had it for 14 or so years."

Lyme disease is a bacterial illness transmitted by ticks. According to the Health Protection Agency, up to 3,000 people contract the illness, also known as borreliosis, each year. Campaigners say the problem is worsening, as warmer winters and wetter summers allow ticks to spread further afield and many doctors remain ignorant of the disease.

Sarah Randolf, professor of parasite ecology at Oxford University, said cases of Lyme disease were compounded by "a poor and haphazard assessment" of its recent prevalence, as well as the increase of deer population which can transport bacteria-carrying ticks.

Mears, who is the patron of the charity for tick-borne diseases Borreliosis and Associated Diseases Awareness-UK (Bada-UK), is leading calls for more awareness of the disease, which can cause severe arthritis, neurological damage, heart problems and fibromyalgia (muscle and connective tissue pain). "I feel that there is not enough awareness of Lyme disease in this country, given the fact that in rare cases it may become chronic," he said.

"I've been teaching outdoor skills for 28 years, the last five years we're hearing more and more cases of people with problems, particularly outdoor professionals who are in the woods a lot. It's becoming a real worry now."

Wendy Fox, chairwoman of Bada-UK, said: "Residential properties are encroaching more on tick habitat, and wildlife are adapting well to the urban environment, which brings them and the parasites they carry into closer proximity to people." She added: "We hear from too many people who have been told by medical professionals that there is no Lyme disease in the UK."

Mears began to suspect that he might have Lyme disease two years ago. "[It] felt as bad as having malaria but it wasn't malaria. I had a tick on my leg about a month earlier, and I was really ill at that point so maybe it was a double dose."

But within weeks of finishing a month of antibiotics, his life changed. "I could go to the gym and exercise with no problem and do anything I wanted."

Mitey menace

* Between 1,000 and 2,000 people a year get Lyme disease. It is a bacterial infection spread by ticks – small, spider-shaped insects that feed on the blood of mammals, including humans.

The ticks, pictured, are commonest in woodland and heathland where there are a large number of tick-carrying animals such as deer and mice. The highest tick populations are found on Exmoor, the New Forest, the South Downs, Thetford Forest in Norfolk, the Lake District, Yorkshire Moors and the Scottish Highlands. They are commonest in spring and early summer. A tick bite often leaves a red rash like a bull's eye on a darts board. Lyme disease has flu-like symptoms. If untreated it can spread to other parts of the body, causing neurological side-effects such as temporary paralysis of the face. If caught early, Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics which in most cases leads to complete recovery. Even if it becomes more serious, it can still be treated with antibiotics though it may take longer. But there is controversy over long-term use of antibiotics.

Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

    £16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

    Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

    £13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

    £16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence