Tayside has been classified a hotspot for a disease that has spread from the Highlands and can cause serious neurological and heart problems.
A team from Dundee’s Ninewells Hospital, carrying out a public health investigation, revealed a rise in cases of Lyme disease over the last five years.
The debilitating condition is spread by blood-sucking ticks which feed by attaching themselves to humans and animals, but are so small they go undetected and have been known to cling on for days.
Lyme disease is picked up by the ticks from birds, deer and sheep, which naturally carry the disease, and is then transferred to humans.
Cases in Tayside are thought to have mostly originated in the district’s large forest areas and have increased from just five in 2005 to 67 last year.
Although most were caught in the early stages, 25% of cases had neurological symptoms which can lead to meningitis or palsy, among others.
In population terms, 17 people per 100,000 were affected in Tayside having jumped from two over five years, with Highland rates rising from 28 to 56 and the rest of Scotland from one to six.
Although Tayside’s infection rate remains lower that the Highlands, the Ninewells team are concerned that the year-on-year increase is becoming proportionally higher.
They are urging visitors to the area to take precautions against tick bites, particularly in rural parts of Angus, Perth and Kinross.
Early indications of having been bitten by a tick with Lyme disease are a rash, flu-like symptoms and fever — the bite itself is painless and only an adult tick will be visible on a person’s skin.
Prompt treatment with antibiotics is usually effective but, if left untreated, it can lead to long-term disabling conditions.
Many theories are being put forward for the increase in Lyme disease cases including climate change, farming methods which create the ticks’ natural bracken habitat and a rise in the deer population.
Dr Darrell Ho-Yen, of Scotland’s Lyme disease testing service, warns that the number of cases could be as much as 10 times higher despite being a notifiable disease.
He said: “The figures do not take into account wrongly diagnosed cases, tests giving false results, sufferers who weren’t tested, people who are infected but not showing symptoms, failures to notify and infected individuals who don’t consult a doctor.”