THE death of a Highland gamekeeper who was admitted to hospital with Lyme disease is being investigated by the Crown Office.
Dad-of-two Scott Beattie, 43, died in Raigmore Hospital in Inverness earlier this month from multiple organ failure.
He worked as head stalker on Wyvis Estate at Glenglass, near Evanton in Ross-shire, where he lived with his partner, Louise Sutherland, and two young children.
His funeral takes place on Wednesday at his home, Eileanach Farm, on the Wyvis Estate.
The Crown Office’s Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit is now investigating the death.
The unit , which was set up last year by the Lord Advocate, provides expertise and specialist advice for Procurators Fiscal from the very earliest stages of non-criminal investigations.
In particular the Unit deals with more complex non-criminal cases, including providing guidance in all cases where a Fatal Enquiry is to be held.
A spokesman for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service said: “ The Procurator Fiscal has received a report into the death of a 43-year-old male on 4 December 2012 in Inverness.
“The investigation into the death under the direction of the Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit is ongoing and the family will be kept updated in relation to any significant developments. I can also confirm that the report we have received is a death report, not a criminal report”.
A spokeswoman for NHS Highland said: “As is standard, sudden deaths are referred to the Procurator Fiscal”.
The fiscal then reported the matter to the Crown Office, who said Mr Beattie’s family would be kept up to date on any findings.
Sources say he had been in the hospital for a month.
Family and friends will gather in Glenglass, in the shadow of Ben Wyvis, for the funeral.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection is spread to humans by infected ticks and can affect the skin, joints, heart and nervous system and is known as the “occupational disease” of woodland and moorland workers.
The UK’s Health Protection Agency estimates there could be as many as three thousand cases in Britain a year and in very rare cases the non-infectious Lyme disease can be fatal .
Mr Beattie is survived by his partner and sons Duncan and Marcus as well as his brothers, Ki and Gordon and parents, Marie and Gordon.
Wyvis Estates factor Hugh O’Donnell said: “Scott was a greatly valued employee, a good friend and fantastic son, partner and father.”
The bloodsucking ticks that carry the Lyme bug borreliosis usually feed off birds, deer and sheep.
Not all ticks are infected but for anyone bitten by an infected tick, symptoms include a “target-like” rash of concentric circles, sometimes described as “like an RAF roundel or an archery target”.
Professor Hugh Pennington, Emeritus Professor of Bacteriology at Aberdeen University, said the condition could be considered an “occupational disease” for farmers and estate workers and they ought to be given information on how to protect themselves and seek treatment.
However he added he would “very surprised” if the disease itself had caused Mr Beattie’s death.
He said: “That would be very uncommon. It is a chronic disease that is treatable through antibiotics, though it does affect many organs.
“It can affect the heart, the brain, the nerves, joints and skin, but most people do get better. If it’s combined with something else there is a theoretical possibility it could be fatal but it is not something textbooks mention.
“The disease has a skin rash associated with it at the site of the bite which is how most patients first notice it. People can be ill for quite a while before it is realised they have it.”
Researchers from Scotland’s National Lyme borreliosis Testing Laboratory said earlier this year that the Scottish Highlands and Tayside were “hotspots” for Lyme disease, which if left untreated can also cause neurological symptoms, including meningitis, palsy and encephalitis.
The disease is on the rise in Scotland, according to the scientist’s findings.
The research compared rates of the disease in Highland, Tayside and the rest of Scotland per 100,000 population. Between 2005 and 2010, rates rose from around 28 to 56 in Highland, from around two to 17 in Tayside and from just one to around six for the rest of Scotland.
Wendy Fox, chair of the tick-awareness charity Borreliosis and Associated Diseases UK, encouraged people to be vigilant.
She said: “Some areas are considered highly endemic but you can pick up Lyme disease anywhere. People with overgrown gardens in urban areas can be bitten, and we are seeing more cases of urban acquired infection.
“The worry is if you start talking about hotspots and someone has been bitten, their GP might not think of Lyme disease because the patient has not visited a hotspot.
“We don’t want to put people off outdoor pursuits, we just want them to be safe while they are doing it.”