Spotlight on Lyme disease: New RCGP toolkit launched

Image of a tick

17 May 2017

Dr Anne Cruikshank,  RCGP Clinical Champion for Lyme disease

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi and transmitted to humans via the bite of an infected tick. Although named after the town of Old Lyme, Connecticut, following an ‘outbreak’ of Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis in the mid-1970s, its dermatological and neurological manifestations have been recognised in Europe since the late 1800s.

Ticks are present throughout the UK. Although most prevalent in rural areas, particularly in Scotland and southern England, they can also be found in urban parks and gardens. As tick numbers increase throughout the northern hemisphere, the incidence of Lyme disease is also increasing. 

'Early diagnosis and treatment provides the best chance of a cure'

Whilst an erythema migrans (bull’s eye) rash is diagnostic, it is not always present and may go unrecognised or unnoticed by both clinicians and patients. Early diagnosis and treatment provides the best chance of a cure. However, delayed diagnosis or inadequate treatment may result in a more chronic multi-systemic illness with significant adverse medical and social consequences for the patient. 

The NICE guideline on Lyme disease recognises the key role that general practitioners play in ensuring early diagnosis and treatment and thereby improving patient outcomes. The guideline gives specific advice on diagnosis and treatment of early Lyme disease but acknowledges the limited evidence base and the need for further clinical and epidemiological research. The need for further GP education on Lyme disease is also recognised. 

The RCGP Lyme Disease Spotlight Project, aims to raise the profile of Lyme disease amongst primary care clinicians and the general public. An increased awareness could ultimately lead to improved patient outcomes, whilst more consistent read coding of the condition will allow more accurate estimates of the UK incidence of Lyme disease. 

'Free to access information for clinicians, patients and the general public'

We held our first two GP workshops in Birmingham and Bristol. Feedback from these events and a recent GP survey will be used to support ongoing development of the project, including further workshops, over the next twelve months. 

RCGP Lyme Disease Spotlight Project has produced an e-learning module, which is freely available to all health care professionals. 

Our new Lyme Disease Toolkit includes information for clinicians, patients and the general public. The resource may help clinicians to recognise the clinical features of this easily missed condition, provide links to evidence based guidelines and highlight the genuine scientific uncertainties and ongoing research into this complex disease. Information for the general public focuses on disease prevention and early recognition of symptoms and includes advice on tick-bite avoidance and correct tick removal. 

We hope this toolkit will prove to be a valuable resource in helping to raise awareness of Lyme disease, further develop medical education and improve patient outcomes. 

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