Festivals and Lyme disease: what are the risks?

Crowds at Isle Of Wight Festival 2007 by Marc Broussely
Crowds at Isle Of Wight Festival 2007 by Marc Broussely

If you've been reading the news this week, you may have come across articles highlighting the dangers of Lyme disease, which is passed on by ticks that tend to be found in rural areas and on livestock.

The condition, also known as borreliosis, tends to cause a rash and possibly flu-like symptoms. If left untreated, more serious symptoms could appear after weeks or months, possibly causing problems with joints and the nervous system.

It’s no coincidence that the articles have appeared during the annual Tick Bite Prevention Week campaign, which is run by the charity BADA-UK. On their website, they state: “Don’t panic but be ‘Tick Aware’!”

The Metro
, however, went with this sober reaction to the campaign:

“Festival-goers at risk as number of Lyme disease cases increase

“A rise in outdoor festivals is believed to be one of the main reasons for a record 3,000 cases of Lyme disease last year.”

But before you start packing away the tent and selling your festival tickets on eBay, there are a few things VF would like you to consider about those statements.

For a start, there is little to support the claims that festivals have contributed to a rise in cases, festival-goers are at a significantly greater risk of catching it and there were a record 3,000 cases in 2010.

The BADA-UK campaign – the source for the story – doesn’t say anything about festival-goers at all. The closest they come is when they say that, “a greater number of people are involved in outdoor recreational and sporting pursuits which take them into tick habitat,” which could be one of the reasons for more infections.

Other reasons they cite include climate change, residential and business estates encroaching on rural land, and changing farming practices.

The latest figures from the Health Protection Agency show that 973 people were diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2009, with 20% of them catching it abroad. Again, nothing about festivals.

They estimate that between 1,000 and 3,000 people might catch the disease each year, but as “the most common and often only symptom is a rash”, it probably goes undetected in the majority.

There has been a rise in cases in recent years, but as we said above, that can be attributed to a number of factors. One thing BADA-UK didn’t mention is the effect of greater awareness. Between 2000 and 2003, figures fluctuated between 200-300 before almost doubling to 500 in 2004. The more the public knows, the more likely they are to see a doctor about it; the more mainstream a condition becomes – even if it is relatively uncommon – the more likely it is that a doctor will diagnose it.

So whilst we at VF urge our readers to be careful and aware of the risks, we might also urge you to not pay too much attention to articles with lines like, “children who play outdoors and walkers who pass under branches are also at risk.”

For more information on the risk of Tick bites and tips on how to keep safe, check out: http://www.tickbitepreventionweek.org