Ex-rugby star Dawson describes potential long-lasting damage after tick bite

Matt Dawson (Mike Egerton/PA) Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Former England rugby captain Matt Dawson has said he still cannot exercise as much he would like, two years after contracting Lyme disease through a tick bite.

The 45-year-old also suffers from an irregular heartbeat and needs regular check-ups.

Dawson developed feverish symptoms after visiting Chiswick Park in London in 2016 and was later diagnosed with Lyme disease.

The bacterial infection, caused by infected ticks, can lead to conditions such as meningitis or heart failure if left untreated and can even prove fatal.

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

He told the Press Association he is unable to do as much exercise or socialise as he would like following his illness.

Dawson said cases of Lyme disease are increasing at a “frighteningly rapid rate”.

The sporting star has teamed up with the Big Tick Project to raise awareness of the dangers.

“I still have regular check-ups, I seem to be a lot better after my surgeries, but I still have an irregular heartbeat that I have to monitor,” he said.

“My lifestyle has changed, I can’t do as much exercise, I can’t socialise as much as I would like to, and you just have to adapt accordingly.

“That’s all down to Lyme disease, and potentially down to a dog having a tick which fell in a park, it jumped on to me and the rest is history.

“I was very lucky because I saw the signs and there was quite an obvious sign of having a target on my back and had blood tests etc, but the number is just frighteningly increasing at a rapid rate – and they’re the cases that we actually know of.

“It’s absolutely on the increase. It is incredibly scary because a lot of people will have it and they don’t realise they have it. It manifests itself in lots of different ways.

“It can lie in your system for so long without you knowing and then be quite debilitating – it attacks the vital organs, its not something that just gives you a rash or makes you feel ill for a bit. In my case it attacked my heart and potentially I have got long-lasting damage that I have to monitor and change my lifestyle for.”

It is estimated there are 2,000 to 3,000 new cases of Lyme disease in England and Wales each year.

Dawson, who said he and his family are “always around animals”, continued: “I hooked up with the Big Tick Project because of its alliance with pets.

“And (I thought) how to understand how to look after your pets was a way of getting across to people that humans do get these diseases.

“This is not just about looking after your cat or your dog at home, but there are issues that you need to consider with yourself and your family as well.”

He said he would advise pet owners to seek a specific tick prevention prescription from their vet.

The Big Tick Project, run by MSD Animal Health in collaboration with the University of Bristol, is conducting the largest veterinary study of ticks and tick-borne diseases in the UK.

The project is supported by more than 1,200 vets across the UK, and has so far examined more than 12,000 dogs and collected more than 6,000 ticks.

Just over three in 10 dogs (30.7%) were found to have been carrying a tick.

Pet owners can find out more by asking their local vet or visiting www.bigtickproject.co.uk