Ticks are present in many parts of the UK and across Europe and the number of reported cases of Lyme, though small, is rising each year. Lyme disease is the most common disease spread by ticks in the Northern Hemisphere. It is estimated to affect around 65,000 people a year in Europe. Infections are most common in the spring and early summer. The aim of this blog post is to raise awareness of lyme’s disease and to offer tips on how to avoid being bitten by ticks.
What is Lyme’s Disease?
Lyme disease is caused by the spirochaete bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is spread to humans, as well as other mammals and birds, by the bite of the common tick (ixodes ricinus). Usually, the tick must be attached to you for 36 to 48 hours before the bacteria can spread. If you’re in regular contact with deer, please be aware to check yourself over thoroughly!
If a deer tick that is sufficiently likely to be carrying Borrelia is found attached to a person and removed, and if the tick has been attached for 36 hours or is engorged, a single dose of doxycycline administered within the 72 hours after removal may reduce the risk of Lyme disease. It is not generally recommended as development of infection is rare.
What to do if you find an embedded tick?
- Firstly, do not panic. But be sure to remove ticks as soon as possible using a tick removal hook, forceps or tweezers.
- Grip the head of the tick as close to your skin as possible (applying pressure against your skin)
- Pull steadily upwards, taking care not to crush the body of the tick.
- Do not be concerned if parts of the head of the tick remain in the skin but do apply a disinfectant (antiseptic) immediately and watch for other skin infections or irritation.
- Do not attempt to burn the tick off or use any substance to remove it!
- Once you have found an embedded tick, it is recommended to bathe/shower as soon as possible to wash off other ticks that may be present on you.
In short, the best method is simply to pull the tick out with tweezers as close to the skin as possible, without twisting, and avoiding crushing the body of the tick or removing the head from the tick’s body. The risk of infection increases with the time the tick is attached, and if a tick is attached for fewer than 24 hours, infection is unlikely. However, since these ticks are very small, especially in the nymph stage, prompt detection is quite difficult.
Finding those ticks!
Often ticks may seem difficult to locate due to them being so small. It is recommended to examine for ticks every three to four hours and at the end of each day spent in a tick habitat.
Pay particular attention to skin folds: groins, armpits and waistband area.
Avoiding ticks in the first place!
Preventing tick bites is the most obvious and effective way of avoiding Lyme disease. Tick bites are most likely to happen in spring, early summer and autumn when walking in areas of cover such as woodland, moorland, long grass or bracken or if handling/despatching deer regularly at these times.
- Covering exposed skin with long trousers tucked into socks and long sleeved shirts with cuffs fastened will help to prevent direct contact.
- Wear boots or shoes that atleast cover upto and beyond your ankles.
- Insect repellents can also help, especially if applied to the naked skin around your lower legs.
- Use repellents that contain 20 to 30% DEET on exposed skin and clothing for protection that lasts up to several hours.
- Trousers should also be sprayed with insect/tick repellent or insecticide (Permethrin) impregnated clothing is available.
- A common misconception is that ticks won’t usually live on clothing. However, they can live for a long time in clothing so brushing them off before going indoors is strongly recommended.
- If you’re out with a working dog on deer in tick infested areas, be sure to check them over thoroughly before letting them loose back in the house!
- Flea/tick collars or products such as Frontline will help to protect pets from ticks.
REMEMBER: Consult your doctor if a rash or other symptoms develop within a few weeks of a tick bite.
All images used: Shutterstock.