Older women living in more affluent rural areas in the UK are among the most at risk of contracting Lyme disease, a study has found.
Researchers from the University of Liverpool analysed the data of more than 2,000 hospital patients across England and Wales and found that people aged between 61 and 65, as well as children aged six to 10, were more likely to be diagnosed with the tick-borne condition.
Parts of southern and western England were also found to be particular "hotspots" for Lyme disease, while 60 per cent of the patients were women or girls.
Furthermore, a total of 96 per cent of those for whom ethnicity information was recorded identified as white.
John Tulloch, an author of the study and researcher at the University of Liverpool, said that while the data shows a predominance of cases among white women over the age of 60, the reasons for this are "hard to explain".
Tulloch added that the findings could be related to differences in health-seeking behaviour between women and men and an increased exposure to tick habitats due to leisure activities in children and older people.
The study, published in the journal BMC Public Health, found that the local authorities with the highest number of cases were Purbeck, with 3.13 cases per 100,000 people per year, New Forest (2.58 cases) and East Dorset (2.32 cases).
This, the researchers said, suggests that people living in rural or suburban areas are more prone to catch the tick-borne disease because they are more likely to be out in the countryside or come into contact with animals that could pass on ticks.
"Almost all parts of England and Wales reported Lyme disease cases attending hospitals with clear hotspots of disease in central southern England," Tulloch said.
"This highlights that while Lyme disease poses a risk across both countries, for the majority of people the risk is likely to be very low."
According to a separate study published last month, cases of Lyme disease have "increased rapidly" in the UK and may be three times more common than the current annual estimate.
The current official estimate for the UK is around 2,000-3,000 new cases of Lyme disease annually based on laboratory data in England and Wales and centralised reporting in Scotland.
According to the NHS, Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that can be spread to humans via bites from infected ticks.
Symptoms can include a circular red rash often described as looking like a bullseye on a dartboard. The rash can appear up to three months after being bitten by a tick and usually lasts for several weeks.
Some people also experience flu-like symptoms, including a high temperature, headaches, muscle and joint pain, and loss of energy.
Lyme disease is typically treated with a three-week course of antibiotics. However, people with severe symptoms could be referred to a specialist in hospital for injections of antibiotics.