Dave Townsend was just 23 when he was bitten by a tick on a day out in the New Forest.

He could never have guessed at the time that he would still be suffering from symptoms some 25 years later.

"The locum doctor who made a house call to me diagnosed me with flu but I got worse over the next couple of days," says the father of four.

"My then girlfriend, and now wife, took me to hospital. I was lucky (relatively!), when I was admitted to Southampton General Hospital, as the consultant had a knowledge of tick borne diseases.

"The doctor recognised the bullseye rash for what it was, alongside a temperature of 43°C and severe flu-like symptoms.

"I was put on a wide selection of very strong antibiotics and two weeks later was able to leave.

"Little was known of Lyme in the UK at this time, and not a lot more elsewhere; especially the long term effects or the immune system damage; I’d certainly never heard of it."

Around six months later, Dave suffered from what he was told at the time was post-viral fatigue syndrome.

"Looking back this it was most likely my first period of post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS)," he says.

It lasted around eight months. Dave had to suspend his university studies. He could only stay awake for four to six hours a day and walking 100 metres exhausted him to a state where even eating was very difficult.

Eventually he recovered and returned to his studies, but his energy levels never fully returned.

"I started work in late 1994, and within a few weeks noticed some small red spots on my torso. I went to my GP and was told it was probably a histamine reaction to some chemical I had come into contact with at work (I was working in a shipyard)," he says.

"But a couple of weeks later, almost overnight, the spots spread over my whole body and formed the distinctive silver scales of psoriasis. Psoriasis is now known to be caused by the immune system attacking the skin. By Christmas I was so badly covered with psoriasis lesions that I couldn’t move without pain from cracking skin. I seriously considered suicide.

"I was admitted to hospital in the new year for five weeks of intensive treatment. My knees had started hurting quite badly and I was told I probably had psoriatic arthritis as well as psoriasis."

Over the next decade, Dave was admitted to hospital for intensive treatment for psoriasis another ten times. Eventually he reached his limit of UV radiation exposure and a new treatment regime was required.

"In early 2001, I suddenly developed Type 1 Diabetes, when my immune system decided I didn’t need my entire pancreas and killed off the islets of Langerhans Beta cells; the cells that produce insulin," says Dave.

In December 2003, Dave fell down the stairs while carrying his four-month-old daughter.

He twisted his weight around and caught her upon his chest, but dislocated his ankle and incurred spiral fractures of his left tibia and fibula. He ended up in plaster for 16 weeks, and required four operations to rebuild his leg and ankle.

"The trauma of the fall and break set off my first full psoriatic arthritis flare. Almost every joint in my body was affected," he says.

"I was diagnosed fairly quickly by the rheumatology team at my local hospital and put forward as a candidate for Etanercept (Enbrel) one of the first Anti-TNF Biologic drugs to come to the market. Within three months my psoriasis was almost all gone, and my arthritis had stopped progressing; but by now I needed to walk with a stick all the time."

Unfortunately, after six months the drug began to be less effective.

Having had almost 12 months off sick from work over a four period, Dave took medical retirement at the age of 37.

Unfortunately, he also developed exfoliating erythrodermic psoriasis, which can be life-threatening.He was rushed to hospital, where he spent seven weeks as an in-patient, and needed two major operations to remove infected tissues.

"I had to go without any treatment that could suppress my immune system for six months," he says.

"Those six months were terrible, I ended up pretty much housebound because of pain and my appearance thanks to psoriasis."

By the winter of 2009, Dave was feeling suicidal again and begged his rheumatologist to put him an anti-TNF treatment again.

"I started it in January 2010, and within hours of my first treatment my skin was visibly improving and my joint pain was easing," he says.

"it was a miraculous treatment for me that I have been on since."

Then, in 2012, Dave was having issues with muscle pain, spasms and sleep loss. He was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, chronic bursitis and chronic tendonitis. He developed sleep apnoea in 2015 as a result of all the pain meds and relaxants he was taking; so now sleeps with a continuous positive airway pressure mask on.

" By 2015, the medical community had woken up to the existence of "Chronic Lyme's Disease" or "Post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome" (PTLDS); not that there is a treatment for this condition," he says.

"I did, however, finally get a reason for my terrible health and snowballing medical conditions. All because of one small tick bite, thanks to that one infection my life has been completely altered.

And so life goes on. I do voluntary work when I’m up to it. I've learnt to play the tuba, and have had the privilege of being at home to raise my children, especially the two youngest, whilst my wife went out to work.

"I fill my time as best I can. I'm a school governor, and am becoming active in local politics. I'd find it hard to be employed due to my fluctuating health.

"I still walk with a stick, and can’t see that improving, I have to use a wheelchair or mobility scooter for any more than a very short walk; every step causes me pain. My psoriasis remains an issue and still flares several times a year.

"My current treatments have slowed the progression of my psoriatic arthritis, but not stopped or reversed any damage.

" I’m on 14 different prescription drugs, I have to avoid anyone I know to have a cold or stomach bug, etc, as I will catch it and it will floor me for a week minimum, and I have to watch for any childhood conditions like chickenpox, or slapped cheek at my kid’s schools.

"Not surprisingly I am prone to bouts of depression," he adds.

"It is all down to one tick bite from one day out in the New Forest more than 20 years ago.

"My advice? Be sure to wear long trousers, tuck your trousers into your socks, carry out a full body check upon returning, and carry a tick removal tool if you go walking anywhere where domestic livestock or wild animals are present."

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is caused by a corkscrew shaped bacteria called Borrelia. It can be transmitted via a tick bite. Ticks can carry other infections such as Anaplasma and Babesia. Tcks are arachnids and can be as small as a poppy seed.

Some doctors also believe that Lyme disease can be transmitted by insects such as mosquitoes, sand flies, fleas and horseflies (more research needs to be carried out on these methods of transmission). There is also some evidence to suggest that it may be possible for Lyme disease to be transmitted sexually, colgenitally and via blood transfusions and organ donations. More research into these possibilities is needed.

Risk of Lyme Disease

Infected ticks can be found all over the UK, in woodland and parkland, but can also in urban parks and even gardens. You can be infected in any month, but it is most likely in spring/summer. The Big Tick project found ticks on one in three dogs.

Preventing Lyme Disease

Prevention is crucial. Wear insect repellent during outdoor activities and consider treating outdoor clothing with permethrin. Avoid walking through long grass and stick to pathways. Wear light coloured clothing and brush off any visible ticks. Wear long sleeves and long trousers. If you have to walk in long grass, tuck trousers into socks. Shower and check for ticks when you get home. Also use tick prevention on your pets and thoroughly check them for ticks after they have been outdoors.

Removing a Tick

Never pull off a tick with your fingers, normal tweezers or any other tool not designed for the job. Never smother the tick in oil or Vaseline. Carefully remove it using a tick remover or a pair of very fine tipped tweezers, ensuring all parts of the tick are removed. If you save the tick, it can be tested for infections. There is no minimum time a tick needs to be attached to pass an infection, however do remove it as soon as possible.

Diagnosing Lyme Disease

Lyme disease can be hard to diagnose. Tick bites are easily missed and are not normally itchy or painful. Many people will not get the classic ‘bull’s-eye’ rash. Other symptoms to look out for are ‘summer flu’, headaches, fatigue, joint pain and behavioural changes. A blood test can not rule out Lyme disease.

Treating Lyme Disease

Early treatment is key. Treatment should be started immediately if a ‘bull’s-eye’ rash is present. Your GP will be able to advise on the best antibiotics for you, however doxycycline is commonly prescribed to adults and amoxicillin to children. Antibiotics should be repeated until all symptoms cease. The NHS does not normally recommend treating prophylactically unless pregnant or immunosuppressed.