England’s Matt Dawson at the Rugby World Cup in 2003Credit: Andrew Budd Matt Dawson was bitten early last yearCredit:REX FEATURES/DAVID FISHER In 2015, around one in 200 ticks, or 0.5 per cent, carried the pathogen, compared to between two and six per cent in 2017, depending on location.In around two thirds of cases, a distinctive rash develops in the days that follow a tick bite.Flu-like symptoms are another strong indicator of the disease.“I had two days where I felt awful – very feverish on the sofa, crashed out,” said Dawson.”I’d heard of Lyme disease before.“It was something I’d always associated with places abroad, on the continent, in America, wherever there were deer.”There’s no way that I would’ve walked through a wood or a forest with my kids and gone back home and thought, “right, I’ll just check for some ticks just to make sure everything is fine”.“I just wouldn’t have thought of that.” Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. Professor Richard Wall, a leading expert on ticks at Bristol University, said it can take up to 24 hours for a tick attached to human flesh to transfer the pathogen, making it worth checking for the parasites after a walk. Former rugby international Matt Dawson has revealed he underwent multiple heart operations after contracting Lyme disease from walking in a London Park.The England star said he is still recovering two years after being infected by a tick, as experts warn this summer’s mild weather has heightened the risk of catching the disease.Cases of Lyme disease have soared in recent years, from approximately 250 officially reported cases in 2000 to nearly 3,000 currently, although some charities claim the unreported number is as high as 45,000. The condition has traditionally been most associated with rural heath and moorland areas, however scientists said yesterday it should come as “no surprise” that Dawson picked up the pathogen in an urban park.The former scrum half, now 44, said: “It was a really scary time for me and my family and I was shocked to find out that a tick bite in Chiswick – such a tiny creature – caused me to end up needing heart surgery.”Dawson is now free from the disease but still has to take daily medication to help his heart recover, a process he said will take a “long time”.If left untreated, Lyme disease can lead to heart failure, meningitis, paralysis and memory problems. Show more He said the current mild weather means there is currently a higher than normal risk of catching the disease.“The peak of biting tick activity is early spring, but because of the mild summer they will carry on biting,” he told The Telegraph.Dawson is now supporting the Big Tick Project, which aims to raise awareness about the dangers of ticks and tick-borne diseases in the UKThe project recently conducted the largest ever study of ticks in dogs, studying 14,000 canines, finding almost one third were carrying the parasite.”These ticks carry some really quite potent, serious bacteria and they can cause you a lot of problems,” he said.“Raising awareness of them is imperative.” It is transmitted via ticks which feast on deer and can also be picked up from undergrowth by dogs and humans.The rising number of cases is thought to be linked to the Britain’s soaring population of deer.The proportion of ticks in the environment carrying Lyme disease is still relatively small but climbing rapidly.