New guidance regarding the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease has been published by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence in the United Kingdom.

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria spread via tick bites. When diagnosed early, the disease can usually be treated easily with antibiotics. Left undiagnosed, Lyme disease can result in serious health issues, including heart problems, arthritis and meningitis.

NICE advised doctors and specialists to use clinical judgement to assess patients’ symptoms, noting that Lyme disease can cause a circular red rash, known as an erythema migrans, in the days and weeks following a tick bite. Patients presenting with such a rash can be immediately diagnosed by doctors and prescribed antibiotics for treatment, The Pharmaceutical Journal reported.

If a patient has not developed a rash, lab tests can be used to confirm a diagnosis as the symptoms of Lyme disease, which include headache, fever and joint pain, are similar to those associated with other medical conditions.

“This new guideline will help raise awareness and drive up the standard of care right now on the NHS so we can spot Lyme disease sooner and provide people with prompt treatment,” said Mark Baker, director of the NICE center for guidelines. “Our committee reviewed the best available evidence and identified gaps in what we know about prevalence in this country and the benefit of long-term treatment options.”

Baker recommended, “Further research into Lyme disease should be a high-priority area in the UK so we can continue to improve care.”

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