White ‘rich’ women may be ‘more likely to have Lyme disease’

Lyme disease cases are more common in white, well-off women because they live in areas that have more ticks, research suggests.

Scientists analysed 2,361 patients admitted to hospital in England and Wales with the bacterial infection between 1998 and 2015.

Sixty per cent (1,005) were female. The infection peaked in girls aged six-to-10, and women between 61 and 65 years old. 

Information on the patients’ ethnicity was recorded for most of the participants. Of which, 96 per cent (1,803) were white.  

The affluent south-west of England had the most cases over the 17 year study, said the team at the National Institute for Health Research in London.

Well-off, white women may be more likely to live in or near areas infested with ticks – and are more likely to seek help than men, the experts said. 

The creatures spread the infection and are often be found in woods, fields or grassy places. 

White, well-off women may be more at risk of Lyme disease, research suggests. Pictured is the tell-tale bull's eye rash that many sufferers experience in the early stages of infection

White, well-off women may be more at risk of Lyme disease, research suggests. Pictured is the tell-tale bull’s eye rash that many sufferers experience in the early stages of infection

‘These data display a predominance of female cases of certain age groups, most of whom identify as white,’ study author Dr John Tulloch said.

‘The reasons for this are hard to explain, but could be related to differences in health seeking behaviour between women and men.

‘And an increased exposure to tick habitats due to leisure activities in children and older people, as opposed to occupational exposure in younger adults. 

‘The apparent association between ethnicity and Lyme disease is most likely due to sociocultural and behavioural reasons.

‘For example, living in areas that are more likely to see a higher abundance of disease-transmitting ticks.’

Lyme disease, which can cause a ‘bull’s eye’ rash, is on the rise in the UK, the researchers wrote in the journal BMC Public Health. 

The hospital data shows just 0.08 in every 100,000 people had the infection in 1998, which rose to 0.53 per 100,000 in 2015.

This could be down to greater awareness of symptoms among both the public and doctors or a ‘true increase’ in the number of infected ticks. 

As well as the circular rash, many develop headaches, joint pain and fatigue during the early stages of infection. 


Country legend Shania Twain had to retrain her voice after she developed dysphonia – affects the muscles of the larynx – as a result of the Lyme disease she contracted during her 2003 Up! tour.  

In response to rumours she was in rehab, Sk8er Boi singer Avril Lavigne revealed she actually spent five months bedridden as a result of Lyme disease in 2015.

Avril even said she ‘accepted death’ when she could ‘feel her body shutting down’. Now recovered, she reflects on the period as a ‘battle of a lifetime’. 

Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Yolanda Hadid has been battling Lyme disease remissions for years after finally being diagnosed in 2012. Doctors previously thought it was ME. 

And her daughter Bella Hadid, who models for Victoria’s Secret, also suffers from the ‘invisible illness’ and has said she does not know what it is like to wake up without bone pain or brain fog. 

Hollywood actor Ben Stiller was diagnosed in 2010. Although symptom free, he has said it ‘never leaves your system’.  

‘Being aware of the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease is important so patients can receive early diagnosis and treatment from their family doctor,’ Dr Tulloch said.

‘Symptoms typically develop up to three weeks after being bitten by a tick and include a spreading circular red rash or flu-like symptoms. 

‘When patients visit their GP or call NHS 111, it is important to tell them where patients have been and if they remember being bitten.’

Of the 2,361 patients, 2,259 lived in England and the remaining 102 in Wales.  

Purbeck had the most cases with 3.13 in every 100,000 developing Lyme disease a year. This was followed by the New Forest (2.58 cases/100,000/year) and East Dorset (2.32 cases/100,000/year). 

Although cases were clustered in these three areas, the researchers stressed Lyme disease is on the rise across the country. 

‘Almost all parts of England and Wales reported Lyme disease cases attending hospitals with clear hotspots of disease in central southern England,’ Dr Tulloch said. 

‘This highlights that while Lyme disease poses a risk across both countries, for the majority of people the risk is likely to be very low.’ 

‘In the UK information relating to infected Lyme disease patients’ characteristics, where they live and how they are managed within the NHS is not fully understood,’ Dr Tulloch said.

‘Through our analysis of NHS hospital data we were able to identify demographic information about Lyme disease patients accessing hospitals for management and treatment.

‘And, for the first time, [we] start to describe how they progress through the healthcare system.’ 

Of the English participants, 30 per cent ended up in hospital after going to A&E with their symptoms.

This was even higher in Wales, where 67 per cent started off in the emergency department.  

‘It would be unlikely the numbers of patients admitted in our study have severe presentations of disease that require immediate hospital attendance,’ Dr Tulloch said.

‘Further work is needed to explore why so many patients would seek treatment at a hospital when, for the majority of cases, management could occur at primary care level.’

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