Look out for ticks

Love the outdoors? Look out for ticks!

The Covid-19 lockdown between March – July 2020 saw many more people getting out and walking in the great outdoors enjoying the parks, public footpaths and countryside in their local area.

While great for everyone’s health and wellbeing, this increase in exercise across the nation’s greenspaces has also increased the risk of being bitten by the many ticks that now live year-round across the UK. Many of these ticks now carry the Borrelia bacteria that causes Lyme disease as well as other bacteria and parasites that can lead to lifelong health complications and ill health.

Ticks are tiny, spider-like creatures no bigger than a poppy seed at nymph stage, that are attracted to the carbon dioxide we breathe out and the heat we emit as we walk through the grass. They attach themselves to you by hanging on to your hair or clothing and then bite your skin and embed their mouths to feed. It is through the process of feeding that they infect you with the borrelia bacteria and parasites.

Ticks are commonly found in woodland, heath and fields where they are often picked up by walkers, hikers, and people enjoying picnics or camping.

What may surprise many is that ticks are now also being found in urban gardens and city parks across the UK and reports are rising of people being bitten in their own back garden or park.

The reason for this is that depending on the life stage of the tick, they feed on a variety of creatures from sheep, cows, horses, wild deer and badgers, through small domestic animals such as dogs, cats and even garden hedgehogs, mice, voles and rats. Therefore, where you find small or large animals outdoors, you can find ticks.

By exercising caution and being vigilant when outdoors you can still enjoy the countryside or your back garden. Prevention is the best course of action to:

  • Firstly, prevent a tick bite. This seems obvious, but if you avoid getting bitten by ticks through your life, then you are much more unlikely to get Lyme disease.
  • Secondly, if you are bitten, prevent the disease from taking hold by seeking early and rapid treatment with a Lyme specialist or Lyme literate GP.

How to prevent a tick bite

The following measures may sound extreme, but with the rapid rise in tick-borne diseases worldwide, including the UK these are the recommended steps you should do every time you go outside.

  • Wear an insect repellent when outdoors in the countryside or if you are going to be gardening in flower beds, grasses where ticks may be found. Check that it’s one that repels ticks.
  • Take extra care in wooded areas, long grass, fields, heathland and parks.
  • Take the same precautions in your garden among grasses and flower beds.
  • Cover your arms and legs if they are going to come into contact with grasses etc.
  • Tuck your trousers into your socks to prevent ticks from crawling up your socks onto your legs.
  • Check yourself, your family and your pets when you’re out and about – brush off any ticks that are unattached.
  • Check yourselves again thoroughly when you return home – remember you can’t see the back of your body well so get someone else to check too.
  • If you find an embedded tick, remove it with a tick removal tool: if you can’t remove it, go to your doctor immediately or A&E if necessary.

How do you prevent Lyme disease from taking hold if you are bitten?

The good news is that if you catch a tick bite early (i.e. on the day it bites you), Lyme disease can often be treated with a preventative course of 3+ weeks of antibiotics.

Remember, you may not always see an Erythema Migrans rash (the typical bulls-eye rash that appears on your skin when a tick is infected with Lyme disease) so it is important that you do not rely on the rash as the only sign that you have been infected by Lyme disease and other co-infections.

  • You must act QUICKLY as the bacterium moves fast through the body and is highly resistant to the immune system.
  • If you feel unwell or see a rash after being bitten, see your GP immediately and say you’re worried you may have Lyme disease.
  • Early symptoms of Lyme Disease that appear in the acute stage, just after being bitten, include feeling like you have flu, fatigue, joint pain, headaches, fever and heart palpitations.
  • Remember, the classic ‘bulls-eye rash’ (Erythema Migrans) only appears in 25% of people who are bitten: don’t assume ‘no rash, no infection’ – it is simply not true. So if these symptoms appear without a rash, and you have spent time outdoors recently, see your GP.
  • Push your GP for antibiotics as this is the first line of treatment for tick-borne diseases. If they are taken in time, they can be successful in eliminating the disease.
  • Do NOT let yourself be dismissed or ignored by a GP as the debilitating symptoms of Lyme disease can last for years and do not disappear without expert treatment.
  • It is better to take antibiotics that may not be needed than to risk a potential Lyme disease infection that many suffer with for years at home, bedridden and unable to work or function normally.
  • Once Lyme disease moves from the acute/early stage into the long term chronic or persistent stage, it is currently only expert Lyme doctors in the private sector that can help you as many healthcare systems have not yet the right diagnostics or treatment protocols to help patients overcome this debilitating disease.

Date Published: August 28th 2020

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