A CAMPAIGN calling for improved testing and treatment of Lyme disease has been backed by gamekeepers and grouse moor managers.

Patients whose lives were made a misery by the disease, which is spread by the blood-sucking bite of an infected tick, are asking MSPs to push for an overhaul of current medical practice to address the lack of reliable diagnostic tests. They want GPs to be better trained to spot the early signs of the disease and a campaign to raise public awareness. Their petition will be considered at the Scottish Parliament on September 14.

Around five per cent of ticks in Scotland are infected with borrelia, the bacteria which triggers Lyme disease in humans. The number of new cases in Scotland has surged from 30 in 1996 to 220 in 2015.

Although it is treatable if caught early, but can lead to potentially deadly complications such as heart failure without treatment. Around 10 to 20 per cent of patients also go on to develop a what is known as post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome, and suffer severe debilitating neurological problems, fevers, flu-like symptoms, painful joints, heart conditions, and complete exhaustion. There is no agreed treatment and the condition is often misdiagnosed for other illnesses such as chronic fatigue syndrome.

The plight of Lyme disease sufferers has been highlighted recently by former England rugby international Matt Dawson, who had to undergo heart surgery after he was bitten by a tick during a visit to a park in London.

Now gamekeepers and moorland managers in Scotland have voiced their support for the patients' petition.

Carrieanne Conaghan, coordinator of the Speyside Moorland Group, said: “It is important to carry out tick control – which includes sheep dipping and bracken spraying - as part of our wider moorland management practice.

"This not only benefits the grouse but additional bird species and reduces risk to members of the public enjoying the countryside. Moorland groups around Scotland fully support his petition as anyone who contracts Lyme disease can be severely affected.”

The careful management of deer and hare numbers on Scottish grouse moors is also another technique used to control tick numbers and the spread of disease. Recent research found that if deer populations are managed alongside woodland regeneration projects, tick populations and the risk of Lyme disease can be reduced.

On an estate in the Speyside region, a recent tick control programme was implemented whereby the number of deer on the estate was reduced and sheep treatment was carried out on a flock of 2700 sheep. Throughout the programme, tick numbers were seen to drop from as high as 35 on a single grouse chick to between one and 10.

Dr Kathy Fletcher, an upland researcher with the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, said: “Reducing the number of hosts to stop adult ticks having their ‘big-blood’ feed in turn reduces the population size of the next generation and will minimise the spread of tick-related diseases.”