Mother of three 'devastated' by Lyme disease after Hampstead Heath visit
PUBLISHED: 08:09 31 August 2017 | UPDATED: 12:04 31 August 2017
The managers of Hampstead Heath and other North London open spaces have warned visitors to be aware of the dangers of contracting Lyme disease from tick bites.
The warning comes after two women reported getting bitten by ticks carrying the disease during trips to the Heath.
Mother of three Lottie Khan, 39, spotted a red patch on her shin after taking her children to the Golders Green park for a picnic in May last year.
Two months later and after a series of misdiagnoses Mrs Khan was told she had caught the infection from a tick bite.
Her warning comes after former rugby international Matt Dawson revealed he underwent multiple heart operations after being infected with Lyme disease in a London park.
Ticks and Lyme Disease
Ticks are blood-sucking critters related to spiders.
There are many species in the UK, each feeding on the blood of different animal hosts – though they feed on human blood if given the chance. The initial bite does not hurt or itch because ticks inject an anaesthetic into the skin.
An immature tick may pick up the bacteria during a blood meal and pass the disease on to the next animal it feeds on, which might be a person.
Ticks should be removed as soon as possible, preferably with a tick removal tool designed to remove it without it being squashing.
In an emergency, a thread of cotton can be wound close to the skin, and pulled upwards. Disinfect the area around the bite using antiseptic cream.
Do not try to pull the tick out with your fingers, burn the tick or cover it with creams or chemicals.
Eyebrow tweezers are not suitable.
Symptoms appear on average 14 days after a bite.
Diagnosed early, Lyme disease is usually curable with antibiotics.
Mrs Khan, from Hampstead, collapsed after spotting the bite, causing doctors to fear she had suffered a stroke or developed multiple sclerosis (MS) or a brain tumour.
She has had to take a break from her career in HR and struggles to look after her three children on her own.
She said: “I lost my zest for life. It caused me so much anxiety. It was about surviving day by day. Some people get a slow decline, but in my case I collapsed very quickly,”
The weekend after the Brexit vote Mrs Khan was bed bound with flu-like symptoms.
Then a loss of balance, dizziness, joint pain and paralysis on her left side, led neurologists to carry out tests for a stroke, brain tumour or MS.
She was diagnosed with Lyme Disease only after scans ruled out the other conditions.
“I got worse before I got better,” Mrs Khan said. “I was unable to look after my children and became housebound. You lose your identity a little bit.
“I’m sure dementia is absolutely devastating, but I had similar feelings.”
Mrs Khan described an episode in King’s Cross when she was so disorientated, she believed she had lost her children even though they were safe at home.
During her illness Mrs Khan moved to West Yorkshire to get support from relatives.
“It’s the kind of illness that untreated can stop you in your life. I’m better but I still get memory loss and fatigue. If you don’t get it treated it can be really serious,” she said.
Mrs Khan posted her warning on the Facebook page Hampstead Mums.
Now another member of the group, Cara Lorrimer has revealed that she was also infected from a tick bite on Hampstead Heath.
Ms Lorrimer, 32, said: “I was at a summer solstice party on The Heath in the long grass on the meadow by the Ladies Pond.
“When I got home, I noticed a bite. It looked different and had red, broken skin. Alarm bells rang as I remembered a conversation about ticks.”
Ms Lorrimer, a child therapist from Kentish Town, contacted her GP when she suffered swollen glands and aching muscles and a red ring like a bulls eye started to form.
“My GP confirmed it looked suspicious and gave me antibiotics straight away,” she said.
Ms Lorrimer counts herself lucky as she believes media attention caused her GP to react.
“I wouldn’t want anyone to be put off spending time outdoors, just encourage people to check for unusual bites, to trust your intuition and push for antiobiotics if you think necessary.”
A spokesman from the City of London Corporation, which manages Hampstead Heath, said: “In line with advice from the Forestry Commission and the NHS, visitors to the Heath should wear appropriate clothing and cover up to avoid getting bitten by ticks.
“These can be found in grassy areas during the summer months and some can carry bacteria that can cause Lyme disease.
“Before departing from the Heath, visitors should inspect themselves and their dogs for any visible ticks and remove them carefully.
“If you find that you have been bitten and begin to develop any flu-like symptoms, please seek medical attention from your local GP as soon as possible,” he added.