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At all times of year, when working in or enjoying the outdoors, it is important to be aware of the presence of ticks and the possibility of contracting Lyme Disease.
There are many different species of tick in the UK, the most common one to find on humans is the sheep tick –Ixodesricinus
There are four stages to the life cycle of a tick: egg, larvae, nymph, adult. The life cycle lasts for 2 years and the tick will spend most of that time living on the ground in leaf litter or similar moist environment. When looking for a host they will climb vegetation and then attach themselves as the animal or human brushes past.
A tick can be as small as a poppy seed in the nymph phase or as large as a raisin in the adult phase. You are most likely to be bitten by a nymph.
The tick will bite into the skin, embedding its mouth parts into the host. It then feeds on the host, the body swelling as it fills with blood. If undisturbed the tick can feed for 5-7 days after which it will drop off the host and return to living at ground level.
The tick only feeds once in each stage of its life.
Removing a tick
After being in the outdoor environment it is important to check the skin for ticks. Remember they like moist areas of soft skin so check arm pits, in the hair and also groin areas but they may choose anywhere on the body. If one is found then try, if possible, to use a proper tick removal tool, to safely remove the tick.
The first tool shown above is a tick twister and are often used for dogs but are equally useful for humans. Place the forks either side of the tick as close to the skin as possible. Twist carefully to remove the tick from the skin.
With the tick remover card choose the appropriate size notch for the size of tick. Slide the notched area of the card as close to the tick as possible. Gently lift upwards removing the tick from the skin. This card may also prove useful for removing a bee sting as you can use it to scrape the sting away from the skin.
You can also use tick tweezers or a pair of really fine tweezers. Gently grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull upwards to remove the tick from the skin.
Once you have removed the tick, clean the area with an antiseptic wipe. Make sure the whole tick has been removed, including the mouth parts.
If you want to know where the tick bite was you could mark the area with a permanent marker pen. This might be a good idea if you need to show a parent later.
There may be an red rash where the tick bite occurred, this is a normal histamine response and should disappear after a day or so.
I keep a small tick kit as part of my first aid kit. This is just a small box containing the 3 types of tick remover tool, some antiseptic wipes, a pair of gloves and a small marker pen to show where the tick bite occurred.
Some ticks may carry Lyme Disease and this could be passed on to the human when the tick bites them. There is no minimum time for the tick to be attached to the human for Lyme Disease to be transmitted but the sooner the tick is removed the better.
A spreading rash, sometimes known as a ‘bulls eye rash’, is a diagnostic for Lyme Disease, if this is present then the person has Lyme Disease. However not everyone develops a rash. Casualties should visit their GP immediately if a rash develops.
Additional Signs and Symptoms of Lyme Disease can include:
These may develop several days, weeks or even months after the initial tick bite.
Children may display behaviour changes or appear moody.
It is important to note that these signs and symptoms may fluctuate. Just because a person feels better for a day or so does not mean that the bacteria which cause Lyme disease are no longer present.
So What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme Disease is caused by the Borrelia bacteria. When the tick feeds on small mammals it may pick up the bacteria, then when the tick feeds on a human the bacteria can be passed on.
The only way to get rid of Lyme Disease is through a course of antibiotics lasting at least 3 weeks.
There is a blood test to see if a person is infected with Lyme Disease but no blood test is available to see if it has been eradicated. If the person continues to feel unwell they should return to the doctors and request more antibiotics.
Other tick borne diseases
Babesiosis – most common in Northeastern and Midwestern United States of America and many parts of Europe including the UK.
Babesia is a malarial type parasite that infects and destroys red blood cells and can cause hemolytic anaemia. It’s main vector is the sheep tick Ixodes Ricinus.
Signs and symptoms of infection include: flu-type symptoms such as fever, muscle ache, chills and fatigue. Some people may also experience jaundice (yellowing of the skin). Severe cases can lead to kidney and lung problems and potentially, death.
Antibiotic medication is required.
Click here for further information on Babesiosis.
Anaplasmosis – Human Granulocytic Anaplasmosis (HGA) is caused by the bacterium Anaplasma phagocytophilum.
This is spread to humans through tick bites mainly from the black legged tick found in the Northeast and Midwestern United States of America and the western black legged tick found on the West Coast of America. In Europe those infected show mild or no symptoms and may not even need treatment.
People who are infected may have fever, headache, chills and muscle ache.
Treatment is through antibiotics.
Click here for further information on Human Granulocytic Anaplasmosis (HGA).
Rickettsiosis – caused by a species of bacteria known as Rickettsia. There are two main groups of Rickettsiosis: The spotted fever group –spread by ticks and the Typhus group spread by lice and fleas.
The most common form in the USA is Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Most cases in Europe are reported in Italy, Portugal and Spain.
People with symptoms will have headache, fever and a rash.
Treatment is by Antibiotics.
Click here for more information on Rickettsiosis in the USA.
Tick-borne Encephalitis virus (TBE) – the Hyalomma Marginatum ticks that spread this infection can be found in much of Europe and parts of China and Japan.
In 2019 the first cases of ticks carrying TBE were seen in 2 locations in the UK, Thetford Forest and on the Hampshire/Dorset border. Read here.
You can get a vaccination if you are visiting a country where the infection is common and is advisable if you are planning to take part in outdoor activities.
Click here for more information on the TBE virus and how to prevent it.
Preventing tick bites
It is always better to try and prevent a tick bite in the first place if at all possible.
•Be aware of high risk areas. Click here for a map of known tick areas of the UK. If you are travelling abroad check the situation for the countries you are visiting.
•Wear long sleeves and long trousers, tuck trouser legs into socks. Light coloured clothing is best for seeing ticks.
•Use a tick repellent spray. For adults a spray containing DEET is recommended to repel ticks but there are also non-DEET and natural sprays available for use with children.
•Brush and shake off outdoor clothing and equipment after use •Check body all over for ticks on returning home
•Carry a tick kit on outdoor trips and remove any embedded tick as quickly as possible
•Monitor for a rash developing, any flu-like symptoms or generally feeling unwell.
Lyme Disease UK have an excellent website with great resources for sharing with children and parents. Click on the logo above to go to their site.
Have you been bitten by a tick or maybe been unlucky and contracted Lyme disease? If so let me know in the comments below, it is really important that we raise awareness of ticks and Lyme disease so that people know what to look for and can get treatment as soon as possible.