New campaign to alert walkers to risk of Lyme disease in France

The initiative aims to improve understanding of the condition which comes from tick bites and can be difficult to diagnose. Some sufferers say it is still not well-treated in France

26 April 2021
A tick on a leaf. New campaign to alert walkers to risk of Lyme disease in France

Lyme disease is caused by tick bites, which are more common in wooded outdoor areas Pic: Scott Bauer / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

By Hannah Thompson

A new campaign to raise awareness of Lyme disease and other tick-borne conditions is inviting people to paint pebbles in bright colours and scatter them in nature in France to remind people of the risks.

The children’s association Enfance Lyme has launched the “Find My Pebble (Trouve mon galet)” campaign in a bid to raise awareness of the condition, and remind people of the risks of tick bites in the natural environment. 

It is set to begin in Metz in Grand Est from May 4.

Lyme disease is often known as an “invisible disease”, but it can affect anyone, and is transmitted by tick bites.

It can cause muscle spasms and paralysis, intense migraines, fever, and balance problems. Its symptoms often appear similar to those of other conditions, making it particularly difficult to diagnose.

Some doctors even still disagree on the extent of the condition and it is often confused for psychological problems.

One woman, Claire Motion from Metz in Grand Est, had to fight for a Lyme diagnosis for her eldest son, who was aged 12 when symptoms first started to appear, and age 15 when they worsened significantly.

She told France 3: “It started with migraines, with a bit of a temperature, and problems balancing. As soon as he tried to walk, he was balancing against walls or holding on to furniture. He couldn’t walk straight.

“I went to my doctor and then took my son to the hospital where I was often talked down to. I was given many names for illnesses ranging from migraines to herpes encephalitis, meningitis and stroke. 

Diseases with irreversible after-effects that were extremely frightening. 

“And while waiting for a diagnosis for six months, my son had new attacks and was not treated in time against Lyme.”

She said: “The doctors did not know what they were dealing with and thought that these were mainly psychological symptoms.”

 

Lyme diagnosis

It was only after speaking with her own mother, whose friend had been diagnosed with Lyme disease in Germany, that Ms Motion found any real answers.

She said: “One day [my mother] called me. She had discussed her grandson and his symptoms with a friend of hers, who was 70 years old and had Lyme disease. She had been diagnosed in Germany, because just like my son, the doctors [in France] didn't know what they were dealing with and thought it was mostly psychological.

“She had suffered for a large part of her life and had heard that it was ‘in her head’ for years before moving abroad, where the disease is better diagnosed and treated than in France. 

“So I asked about the specialists in the area. The names of doctors who take the disease seriously are generally passed around. I went to see one of them that had been recommended to me in Metz in Moselle, and the diagnosis was made."

Diagnosis can be done after blood tests, but even these can sometimes be doubted by professionals and are sometimes not reliable.

Ms Motion said: “The worst thing was that I started to doubt my own judgement. I wondered if I was on the wrong track and if the Lyme disease specialist I had seen the first time was a charlatan. 

“But no, I was right and so was he.”

It is thought that the boy had been bitten by an infected tick during scout trips at around age 12. 

Symptoms began to appear then, but delayed diagnosis meant that he did not take the three-week antibiotic treatment that can - when used early enough - stop Lyme disease from becoming a lifelong condition.

Now aged 20, he is following a range of different treatment plans that enable him to live a relatively normal life, although he has dramatically reduced his gluten and sugar intake - as these are major sources of fuel for the disease - and is largely unable to do any sports or heavy physical activity.

Ms Motion said: “Lyme is not a psychiatric or psychological illness, it is physical.

“That's why I got in touch with the Association Enfance Lyme, and why I'm going to take part in the ‘Find my pebble’ project.

“I don't want other people suffering from this disease to be as in the dark as we were. I think that in France, Lyme patients are given little hope, but there is hope. 

“We just need to review the ways in which patients are tested and open up research in this area.”

It is thought that ticks infected with Lyme have increased in recent years in France, often due to a lack of foxes and/or cats, depending on the area, which are the main predators of tick-bearing rodents that bring them back to the city.

Global warming also means that there are more ticks over a larger area, and over a longer period of the year.

Advice for avoiding tick bites: 

  • Protect and regularly check pets for ticks to avoid them becoming hosts for the insects
  • Cover up your skin as much as possible when going out in nature, or use insect repellent

If you are bitten:

  • Use tick tweezers to take out the bite “head” from the skin as quickly as possible, taking care not to press on the tick
  • Tick bites that cause Lyme can often lead to a “bull’s eye” red ring around the bite
  • If you are not able to remove the tick yourself, ask a health professional to do it
  • Always request preventative antibiotic treatment against Lyme disease ASAP to avoid developing the disease long-term

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British-French skier’s three-year Lyme disease battle
France warned to avoid ticks as warmer weather arrives
Legal action over Lyme disease

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