Health & Safety

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Ticks and Lyme Disease

3 April 2013

People need to be aware of the risk of "Tick bites" whether at work or enjoying leisure time in forested, woodland, heathland and moorland areas or suburban parklands. Many people have never heard of ticks, others know what they are but are unaware that British and Irish ticks can carry and transmit a number of diseases to all manner of wildlife, livestock, domestic pets and humans.

woodland

What are Ticks?

Ticks are tiny insect-like parasites that attach to your skin and feed on your blood. They can carry serious debilitating diseases such as Borreliosis (Lyme disease), Louping ill and a number of other infections. Ticks are found in moist, coarse, permanent vegetation in woodland, heath and moorland including bracken, leaf litter and decaying mats of grass, attaching themselves to passing animals and humans.

A Tick bite usually looks like a lump with a small scab on the skin surface. Tick numbers are increasing and whilst they are usually associated with the countryside they are also present in our urban parks and gardens. The peak times for Tick bites are late spring, early summer and autumn.

High Risk Areas

Areas inhabited by Deer are particularly suitable habitats for Ticks. The main feeding hosts however are small mammals such as field mice, voles, hedgehogs and birds including blackbirds and pheasants. However, any passing warm blooded host will make a suitable meal. Ticks may be found on vegetation from ground level to about 18 inches high.

Increasing Risk

Reports suggest that the Tick population in the UK and its distribution is increasing and with it comes the risk of contracting Lyme Disease (Borreliosis) and other Tick-Bourne diseases. Rsearch published in January 2013, suggests that the prevalence of Lyme Disease Bacteria in the UK Tick Population is considerably higher than most recent estimates indicated. We do know that the number of confirmed cases of Lyme disease is on the rise. The reason for the ncrease may include an increase in the UK's deer population, damper summers, milder winters, higher recreational use of parks and countryside and a modest increase in awareness of the disease.

The most likely time to be infected

The most likely time to be infected is in late spring, early summer or autumn as these are the peak times of the year for tick feeding. Working in areas of long grass/shrubs, heath and woods presents the most danger. Not every tick carries Borreliosis or other infective organisms and, even if the tick is infected, not every bite will transmit disease. The longer the tick remains attached, the higher the risk of disease transmission. Therefore, prompt removal using the correct technique is very important.

Borreliosis (Lyme Disease)

Lyme disease is caused by infection with spiral bacteria called 'Borrelia burgdorferi' spread by infected Ticks.

A common Lyme disease symptom is a slowly expanding reddish skin rash in a ring shape, that spreads out from a tick bite, usually after about five to fourteen days and this may be the only sign of infection. If the infection is untreated the bugs may spread in the bloodstream and to other parts of the body, including the nervous system, joints and other organs, and some patients may develop more serious complications caused by tissue damage.

Awareness and Early Diagnosis is Crucial

The absence of any early symptoms and misdiagnosis of symptoms has meant that in some cases, infection has gone untreated, with a number of serious secondary symptoms appearing months or even years later. If caught at an early stage, Lyme Disease is easily treatable with antibiotics. The prognosis for a patient is usually good if Tick-borne diseases are treated early and adequately. However, misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, incorrect treatment, or total lack of treatment, has resulted in Tick-Bite victims being ill for many years. For some this can lead to permanent disability.

What you should do

To minimise the risk of being bitten by an infected tick:

  • Wear appropriate clothing in tick-infested areas (long sleeved shirt and long trousers tucked into socks). Light coloured fabrics are useful, as it is easier to see ticks against a light background.
  • Check that ticks are not brought home on clothes.
  • Consider using insect repellents, e.g. Deet-containing preparations.
  • Inspect skin frequently and remove any attached ticks.
  • At the end of the day, check again for ticks, especially in skin folds.
  • Make sure that children's head and neck areas, including scalps, are properly checked.
  • Check that pets do not bring unfed ticks into the home on their fur.

You can remove ticks by gently gripping them as close to the skin as possible using fine-toothed tweezers or similar implements, and pulling steadily away from the skin. Some veterinary surgeries and pet supply shops sell inexpensive tick removal devices.