Former England rugby captain Matt Dawson has revealed how he underwent heart surgery after being bitten by a tick.

The 44-year-old developed feverish symptoms after visiting a park in London early last year and was later diagnosed with Lyme disease, he told the BBC.

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He said: “I’d heard of Lyme disease before. It was something I’d always associated with places abroad, on the continent, in America, wherever there were deer.

“There’s no way that I would’ve walked through a wood or a forest with my kids and gone back home and thought, ‘right, I’ll just check for some ticks just to make sure everything is fine’. I just wouldn’t have thought of that.”

He added: “It was a really scary time for me and my family. Such a tiny creature caused me to end up needing heart surgery.”

Matt is now free of the disease, having undergone multiple heart operations and endured 18 months of treatment, the BBC said.

But he added: “I’m still on medication and its going to take a lot of time for the heart to fully recover.”

While the NHS estimates that around 2,000-3,000 cases of Lyme disease occur in England and Wales every year, it’s still a fairly unknown condition.

In fact, UK charity Lyme Disease Action (LDA) suggest that, “due to widespread lack of knowledge and awareness regarding tick-borne diseases in the UK – amongst GPs and the medical profession as a whole – many people with typical symptoms will not even be tested for the disease.”

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Lyme disease - the facts

Lyme disease, sometimes called Lyme borreliosis, can be caught by humans after experiencing a bite from an infected tick (not all ticks carry the disease). Bloodsuckers carrying the disease can be found all over the UK, Europe and North America, in any outdoor spaces, and particularly areas with tall grasses.

That includes your garden and the local park, and it can also affect dogs, with 5-10% of those bitten developing symptoms. But it’s very rare in cats.

Early signs of Lyme disease

According to LDA, early symptoms occur within two to 30 days of being bitten and may include: a circular red “bull’s eye” rash, headaches, a stiff neck, extreme fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and disturbances of sight, hearing, coordination, digestive system and sleep. You can also experience a fever, flu-like symptoms and bouts of extreme anxiety.

Symptoms of Lyme disease

If Lyme disease is not picked up straight away – which frequently happens because so many of the early signs can easily be mistaken for other conditions – there can be damaging long-term results affecting the entire body. Inflammatory arthritis, numb limbs, facial paralysis, heart failure and even meningitis have been found to develop.

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How is Lyme disease treated?

If caught early on, Lyme disease can be successfully treated with antibiotics. However, there is no specific test available that can be used to confidently rule out the disease.

The best thing to do is avoid getting bitten by a tick in the first place – that means covering up when out rambling or walking in the countryside, regularly checking pets for ticks and using insect repellent when possible. If you do get unlucky, make sure to get any tick bites checked out immediately by a doctor.

For more details visit LDA’s website at www.lymediseaseaction.org.uk. If you are worried about Lyme disease or have been in contact with ticks and not had any bites looked at, contact your GP.