Mum-of-three Tracy Clarkson has been struck down twice with meningitis, been forced to have a hysterectomy, lost the use of her legs and suffers regular tinnitus and headaches – all after being bitten by a tick while out for a walk.
Tracy, 40, has tested positive for Lyme disease and is now fighting to raise awareness of the debilitating illness which she says has ruined her life.
Tracy, who lives in Vale Road, Lancaster, was bitten on the leg while heavily pregnant with her son in 2004.
She has since endured long spells in hospital and lost her active lifestyle.
Tracy, who has two daughters, aged 21 and 18, and a 10-year-old son, said: “I had gone for a walk in Arnside and got bitten by a tick on the top of my leg.
“I hadn’t seen it but a few weeks later my mum, who used to be a nurse, spotted it.
“She knew a bit about it and said it might be infected, so I went to A&E and had it removed.
“After that everything started to go wrong with me. I would get lots of infections – I got tonsillitis every month, I had meningitis twice, and also encephalitis.
“My mum kept saying could it be Lyme disease but no one would accept that.
“I was eventually tested but it came back negative.
“But in 2009 I was so poorly that we went to a private hospital in Newcastle, where they said straight away from looking at my symptoms that I had Lyme disease.
“My tests were sent off to America and it came back positive.”
Lyme disease can affect the skin, joints and muscles, as well as the heart and nervous system.
The most common symptom of Lyme disease is a pink or red circular rash that develops around the area of the bite, three to 30 days after someone is bitten.
The rash is often described as looking like a bullseye on a dart board.
Social worker Tracy’s life is a continuous battle against numerous symptoms caused by her illness.
She said: “It starts in your blood and you can feel alright and then suddenly it will trigger something again.
“I have chronic fatigue and have been diagnosed with ME.
“I struggle to walk, I get severe headaches and my throat blisters.
“I get bladder infections and I am going deaf in one ear.
“Because it’s a blood borne virus it’s gone around my whole body.
“One day I can have a bad knee and the next day it’s tinnitus.
“It’s a horrible illness.”
Single mum Tracy said the illness has also affected relationships.
She said: “It gets into your brain so it affects your moods.
“I used to be such an active person and now sometimes I cannot even walk.”
As well as trying to raise money to pay for specialist treatment at a London clinic, Tracy also wants to raise awareness of the severity of the disease.
She said: “Very few people know the dangers of Lyme disease but it’s becoming more prevalent up in this area.
“There should be leaflets in GP surgeries warning people of the dangers.
“Things like just tucking your pants into your socks can help prevent a bite.
“I have been faced with a lot of ignorance from people. The only way we can change people’s perceptions is by raising awareness so that people know it’s a really dangerous illness.
“This area has the highest level of tick population in England so it’s really important that people understand it.
“I wouldn’t want anyone to go through what I have been through.
“It has ruined my life.”
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread to humans by infected ticks.
Tick bites often go unnoticed and the tick can remain feeding for several days before dropping off.
The longer the tick is in place, the higher the risk of it passing on the infection.
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
The earliest and most common symptom of Lyme disease is a pink or red circular rash that develops around the area of the bite, three to 30 days after someone is bitten.
You may also experience flu-like symptoms, such as tiredness, headaches and muscle or joint pain.
If Lyme disease is left untreated, further symptoms may develop months or even years later and can include muscle pain, joint pain and swelling of the joints, and neurological symptoms, such as temporary paralysis of the facial muscles.
Lyme disease in its late stages can trigger symptoms similar to those of fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome.
A person with Lyme disease is not contagious because the infection can only be spread by ticks.
How common is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne infectious disease in the UK, Europe and North America.
People who spend time in woodland or heath areas are more at risk of developing Lyme disease because these areas are where tick-carrying animals, such as deer and mice, live.
Public Health England estimates there are 2,000 to 3,000 cases of Lyme disease in England and Wales each year, and that about 15 per cent of cases occur while people are abroad.
Cases of Lyme disease have been reported throughout the UK, but areas known to have a particularly high population of ticks include Exmoor, the New Forest in Hampshire, the South Downs, parts of Wiltshire and Berkshire, Thetford Forest in Norfolk, the Lake District, the Yorkshire Moors and the Scottish Highlands.
Most tick bites happen in late spring, early summer and autumn because these are the times of year when most people take part in outdoor activities, such as hiking and camping.
Preventing Lyme disease
The best way of preventing Lyme disease is to avoid being bitten when you are in wooded or heath areas known to have a high tick population. The following precautions might help prevent Lyme disease: Wear a long-sleeved shirt, tuck your trousers into your socks, use insect repellent, check yourself, your children and pets for ticks.
If you do find a tick on your or your child’s skin, remove it by gently gripping it as close to the skin as possible, preferably using fine-toothed tweezers, and pull steadily away from the skin.
Never use a lit cigarette end, a match head or essential oils to force the tick out.