Emergence of Lyme disease on treeless islands in Scotland

Lyme disease has the potential to emerge in a wider range of habitats than previously thought, suggests new work by University of Glasgow researchers. 

A new study, published in Emerging Infectious Diseases found that open, treeless habitats can support similar densities of infected ticks as woodland in the UKchallenging established knowledge of which habitats present the most disease risk. 

Lyme disease – an infection contracted from the bite of an infected tick– is growing in incidence in people in the UK and large parts of Europe and North America. It is usually associated with forested habitats but over the past decade has, somewhat surprisingly, emerged on treeless islands in the Western Isles of Scotland. 

Researchers from the Universities of Liverpool and Glasgow, in collaboration with NHS Western Isles and NatureScot examined the different human and environmental factors which could have contributed to the rise of Lyme disease in the Western Isles.   

The proportion of infected ticks was found to be around 6% on islands with high numbers of Lyme disease cases, compared to <1% on islands with low numbers of cases. On islands with a high incidence of Lyme disease, the researchers found that open habitats, including grassland and domestic gardenshad similar tick density and prevalence of infected ticks as forested mainland sites in Scotland. 

Our study highlights the potential for Lyme disease to emerge in habitats with a suitable climate other than forests so we should be looking at non-forested habitats more broadly both in the UK and globally, said senior author Dr Roman Biek from the University of Glasgow. 

The study has received wide media attention including coverage by the Times, BBC News, STV, and Dr Roman Biek being interviewed on BBC’s ‘Good Morning Scotland’.  


First published: 6 April 2021

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