TICKS look like very small spiders that inhabit woodland and grassland areas throughout the UK.
They are unable to fly or jump onto humans. Instead they easily attach to exposed skin when you brush past them, usually in long grass.
Once a tick latches onto soft skin, it will spend a couple of days feeding on the host’s blood before dropping off, bloated and docile, often unnoticed.
Their bite isn’t always apparent, but sometimes a little pain may be experienced.
The danger of ticks is the potential for being infected with Lyme disease. However, if you discover you have a tick bite, there is no cause for alarm – only a very small number of ticks are infected with the bacteria that develops into Lyme disease.
For a human to become infected with Lyme disease, they would need to be bitten by a tick which is already carrying the bacteria from an infected animal it had recently fed upon.
Although Lyme disease is rare, it is still important to remove the ticks as soon as possible to reduce your risk.
How to safely remove a tick:
1: Do not panic. Remember all of the above, and try to be relaxed and calm. Whether you are executing the removal yourself, or getting someone else to help, any anxiety about it may cause you or those around you botch the extraction and leave parts of the tick under your skin.
2: Using tweezers (or a specialist tick-removing tool), grasp the tick at the point where it has penetrated the skin. Grip firmly, but not with enough force to snip the body.
3: Pull with an upwards motion as slowly as possible, taking care not to damage the tick. Dispose of the tick (there are several preferred methods, but an effective dispatch is to stick it onto parcel tape, wrap it, then crush. Other people will dip them in alcohol or simply flush them down the toilet).
4: Immediately clean the bite with soap and water and apply antiseptic.
You now need to take no further action unless you develop signs of illness. Lyme disease symptoms may not develop immediately, and are known to appear several weeks after a bite.
If any symptoms do develop, see your GP.
- A reddish rash – often described as a ‘bullsye rash’ because it looks like the centre of a target – may appear around the bite.
- Nausea, headaches, shivering, feeling hot and sick – all very much like flu.
If you have these symptoms, visit your GP and explain you have been in grassy or woodland areas.
Diagnosing Lyme disease can be very difficult, and it may be necessary to have several blood tests in order to establish if you are infected or not.
If the GP suspects Lyme disease, you will be prescribed a course of antibiotics that will last for three weeks (it is vital that the three-week course is adhered to and finished).
The flu-like symptoms can last for several months, but will improve with the correct treatment.
How to reduce the risk of being bitten…
Keep as much of your skin covered as possible, and wear gaters or tuck your trousers into your socks or boots when walking through long grass.
Use an effective insect repellent which contains DEET (Avon Skin So Soft is also widely used to repel mosquitoes, but as yet unproven for ticks).
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease remains much of a mystery throughout the world, as the symptoms are so similar to many other infections, and vary massively from person to person.
It is a bacterial infection which, on the whole, can treated effectively. However, in a small fraction of cases, lasting symptoms such as arthritis, fatigue, disturbed sleep and cognitive difficulties can last for years.