Ticks and Lymes Disease
What do they do?
Ticks live in the soil and emerge to climb tall grass, shrubs, bushes and low level tree branches up to a height of 20-70cm in search of a blood host. They attack when you, or an animal, brushes past and look for an area of soft skin to insert their feeding organ and suck blood. They can attach themselves almost anywhere but prefer dark creases like the armpit, groin and back of the knee. You won’t feel a thing, as the tick injects a toxin to anaesthetise the bite area and once embedded they will steadily engorge as they feed on your blood.
Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia Burgdorferi (Bb), and many popular UK and European climbing and walking areas have Bb-infected ticks. they estimate around 2000 cases per year go unreported.
The most famous symptom of Lyme disease is a bull’s eye rash (erythema migranes), consisting of a red ring-shaped rash which gradually spreads from the site of the tick bite, usually with a fading centre. Kind of like a browny-red or pink expanding polo mint. It appears 2 – 40 days after infection and is the only sure-fire symptom of Lyme disease – so if you develop one take a photo immediately to show your doctor in case it disappears.
However less than 50% of people with Lyme get this rash. If left untreated a whole range of symptoms can develop, including a flu-like illness, facial palsy, viral-type meningitis, arthritic-like joint pains, nerve inflammation, disturbance of sensation or clumsiness of movement and encephalitis (swelling of the brain).
If you suspect you have Lyme disease then head straight to your GP.
Another treat carried by some ticks in Europe is Tick Borne Encephalitis (TBE) – a viral disease that attacks the nervous system and can result in serious meningitis, brain inflammation and death. TBE incubation time is 6-14 days and at first it can cause increased temperature, headaches, fever, a cough and sniffles. The second phase can lead to neck stiffness, severe headaches, photophobia, delirium and paralysis. There is no specific treatment for TBE.
TBE is endemic in the forest and mountainous regions of Austria, Belarus, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland and Ukraine.
Tick Alert has produced a guide, which gives clear and easy-to-understand information and advice about TBE in Europe. Download ‘Protect yourself from TBE in Europe’
Attached ticks should be removed promptly. Folk remedies for tick removal tend to be ineffective, offer no advantages in preventing the transfer of disease, and may increase the risks of transmission or infection. 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.
Alternatively you can use specialist tick twisters or tick cards. 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.
Preventing Lyme disease
You can reduce the risk of infection by:
- keeping to footpaths and avoiding long grass when out walking
- wearing appropriate clothing in tick-infested areas (a long-sleeved shirt and trousers tucked into your socks)
- wearing light-coloured fabrics that may help you spot a tick on your clothes
- using insect repellent on exposed skin
- inspecting your skin for ticks, particularly at the end of the day, including your head, neck and skin folds (armpits, groin, and waistband) – remove any ticks you find promptly
- checking your children’s head and neck areas, including their scalp
- making sure ticks are not brought home on your clothes
- checking that pets do not bring ticks into your home in their fur
Useful Links and Information
Public Health England: Lyme disease: guidance, data and analysis
Public Health England: Lyme disease signs and symptoms (PDF, 335kb)