By: Blonde Two
We have talked to you about ticks before, especially the one that fancied living up my nose, but with such great weather as we have been having and so many people out enjoying the outdoors, we feel that tick awareness is an important enough subject to be emphasised again. It is also a topic that we get asked lots of questions about. Ticks can bite humans or dogs and carry diseases such as Lyme disease. Here are our answers to 8 key questions about ticks.
What is a tick?
Ticks like tiny spiders (they are also related to scorpions and mites) and difficult to see until they have swollen after gorging on blood. Ticks of different types and carrying different diseases can be found all over the world but the ones most likely to bite you in the UK are the sheep ticks (which don’t just live on sheep).
Where are ticks found?
Ticks can be found wherever animals have been grazing. They prefer a moist environment (both on and off you) and are more likely to be a problem in forests, on moorland, in rough pastures and on heaths. Tick populations are on the increase across the UK, so if you are planning a walk or wild camp we would suggest seeking local advice about known areas to avoid. The areas of the UK that are most prone to ticks are Exmoor, the New Forest, the South Downs, Thetford Forest, the North Yorkshire Moors, the Lake District and the Scottish Highlands. We have also had problems with them many times on Dartmoor where bracken is a particular culprit. This tick threat map is aimed at dog owners but gives some interesting information.
Why are ticks dangerous?
Ticks are dangerous because they pass on disease by feeding on the blood of animals and then humans. They hang around at the tops of plants and grasses waiting for a likely meal to climb onto. You might not notice a tick straight away (although I have witnessed them crawling in hordes up my trouser legs) because they will seek out a warm, damp place before they start to feed and enlarge.
How can I avoid being bitten by ticks?
As we move from winter into the warmer months you should be aware of the risk of ticks. Your choice of clothing plays an important part in helping you to avoid tick bites. Wear light coloured clothing that will make ticks more visible and opt for long sleeves and trousers. Tucking your trousers into your socks may be a fashion faux pas but it will stop ticks from crawling up your legs. Try to avoid walking through very long grass or bracken and brush your clothing off regularly, before you get back into the car, before you enter your tent and when you get home. Check your body thoroughly (you will need to ask for help with this) as ticks prefer to hide in dark crevices. We have experienced ticks on people’s eyelids, up their noses and on their genitals (more than one person and more than one tick at a time).
How can I remove a tick?
There is lots of false advice about what to do when you find a tick. You should never use any liquid, alcohol, grease or heat to remove a tick because all of those risk the tick regurgitating the contents of its stomach into you and spreading disease that way. We would recommend carrying a tick removal device, these can be bought at all good outdoor shops. If you have an antiseptic wipe to hand use it on the tool before removal and on the site of the bite after removal but not on the tick itself. Carefully grasp the tick around its mouth parts (the bits next to your skin) as close to the skin as possible. Never squeeze the tick as this will also cause regurgitation. Pull the tick upwards and outwards without twisting (unless the instructions on your tick removal tool tell you to do so). Wash your hands thoroughly and check your other ‘dark places’ and those of your companions.
Which diseases do ticks carry?
Ticks in the UK can carry several diseases but the one that you are most likely to catch from a tick bite is Lyme disease or Lyme Borreliosis. If left untreated Lyme Disease can stay in the system for a long time and cause inflammatory arthritis, paralysis in sections of the nervous system, meningitis and heart problems.
How do I know if I have Lyme Disease?
Initial symptoms of Lyme disease start between 3 and 30 days of being bitten. The first sign may be a distinctive circular red rash around the site of the bite. Flu type symptoms such as headaches, fever and tiredness may also develop.
What should I do if I suspect I have Lyme disease?
Even if you didn’t find a tick on your body, if you have been in the environments listed above and experience the symptoms above you should consult your doctor immediately. If caught early enough Lyme disease can be treated with a course of antibiotics. If not it can be extremely debilitating.
We hope we have answered all of your questions about ticks and Lyme disease. This video from Public Health England should confirm what we have said. Take care out there!