Ticks have arguably the most dangerous bite to humans of any species in the British Isles, says first aid expert Helen Howe. Why? Two words: Lyme disease. Walkers and climbers are at real risk, so here's how to avoid it.
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles: As per article tucking trousers in to socks (not wearing shorts also good advice) and applying a bit insect repellent on the obvious places they are going to try and get in is a good plan (ankles, neck, waist, upper arms).
Luckily ticks don't seem to like me much anyway, I never found an engorged one on me and probably pulled off less than 10.
I've heard constant rumors that it is on its way... But due to normal drug regulations, I foresee atleast 4 to 5 years until it is available for public.
That said, if TBE (Tick-borne encephalitis) has been found in the area you visit... gettin' the vaccine for it is highly adviced... unlike Borreliosis (ie. Lyme), TBE is caught as soon as the tick bites (where as Borreliosis requires normally around 15 to 24h of the tick being attached).
BTW, according to numerous Finnish studies, the bull's eye rash is even rarer than what was written on the article, the values seem to hover between 20 and 30, but notes of even lower estimates do exist. Thus I might consider myself lucky, as I indeed did get the rash a few years back... and a strong antibiotic for two weeks sorted it out.
However, despite being extremely tick-aware and taking all advised precautions, I was recently bitten by a tick while doing work for the new Welsh Grit (Rhinogydd) guidebook. I thought I'd checked myself thoroughly both during the day as well as when I got home, but clearly not, as I found an engorged tick on my leg about 30 hours later. Ugh! There's now going to be a bit of an anxious wait to see if I develop any symptoms of a tick-borne disease.
The advice about using a DEET based repellent is very good. I think climbers are particularly at risk while walking around in rockshoes at the base of a crag, or when walking off after climbing, so feet, ankles and lower legs need regular treatment with repellent both before and during the day.
Also, while it's very sensible advice to avoid sheep paths through heather, bilberry bushes and bracken, quite often climbers are forced to use these in the absence of any alternative paths, particularly in areas like the Rhinogydd or Berwynion, where the bracken this year is already almost head height in places.
I'm pretty certain I had Lyme Disease, although never saw a hot spot, I would every month come down with extreme fatigue and flu like symptoms usually lasting 5 days, this went on for 8 months, I then had a bells palsy and it was by complete chance that a friend said maybe you have lyme disease.
I went to the doctors and said i think i have lyme disease, insisted he gave me a course of antibiotics, refused to let him run tests (i know, what a pain in the arse i was) but have not had a re-occurrence since.
A friend of mine has Lyme's disease, no bullseye giveaway. He found out when he had a heart attack (aged 32), luckily survived but is very diet restricted (no alcohol).
Not wanting to instil paranoia but if you're unsure about a bite get checked at the doctors.
Separately, they have tick problems in Norway when they all run off to their log cabins for summer, the common practice is just to take a course of antibiotics as standard for the duration of their trip
Good article, thanks: this needs to be better known.
I got Lyme Disease about three years ago after a long walk through bracken and heather on the west coast of the Isle of Man. I found the ticks and removed them, but obviously not very well, as I developed three of the target rashes on the way home the following day - luckily. I went to A & E and told them what I thought I'd got: there was a short queue of doctors wanting to have a look at the bullseye marks as none of them had seen it before. But no subsequent problems following a course of antibiotics.
Unlike a friend's wife in US who had none of the marks and went undiagnosed and ended up in a wheelchair. Once they'd discovered that it was Lyme Disease, it was months of treatment before she was able to look after herself and their daughter again.
I've used a tick removal card on myself and my dogs for years. To date 100% full ticks removed and we're out in the hills all the time. Generally 5/6 ticks per day accumulated. Great thing those wee cards.
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles: With reference to the comment "More recently one has been discovered in the New Forest which can cause a fatal allergic reaction to red meat" I have ended up in A&E because of this! I live in Scotland, have been and continue to be bitten by countless ticks, and became obviously allergic to meat 18 years ago. The techy bit is that I apparently react to a "mammalian oligosaccharide epitope, galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (alpha-gal)." More recently I also began to react to milk products but can tolerate skimmed milk products as alpha gal is only present above 2% fat content. I know of two other people similarly affected but suspect there are many more in Scotland/tick areas/amongst the outdoor population. It would be good to see more research into this and awareness.
Edit: I realise I didn't make it clear that the NHS immunologist who has considered my case acknowledges the research to date which proposes that susceptible individuals become allergic when exposed to a combination of tick saliva and meat proteins from the tick's last blood meal ... or something like that!
Sorry, this does not help IMHO - I do it anyways, but...., this year already with all these precautions taken we have had two massive incidents (and several smaller ones). Last week at Gruinard crags, just walking in for ten minutes, saw us having a huge number of ticks - some had already bitten in these ten minutes. In some areas it is just impossible. The best thing to do is to continuously check and kill them when you have the time (e.g. belaying) and then take all you clothes of before getting into your car and removing as many as possible through a body-check. I still found a couple more two days later. Last time we were climbing in Glen Croe a few weeks ago I had about seven, my husband 11 and my son ten - one in the most unfortunate place......Yikes, trying to take tweezers to that. He was very brave. After Grunaird, husband had about seven and I had 4. (That's the ones who had bitten, many more moving ones removed.
In reply to Heike: Doesn't help or isn't fool proof? Also did you apply repellent?
Checking your self through out the day and brushing down after walking through under growth are sensible things to do also. Mostly in the past I've found them behind my knees so anything to make it harder for them to climb up my legs is a good idea.
I have found them everywhere and my husband climbing was saying "watch me" as I was just watching and brushing off the ticks instead....". I have found them in any spot imaginable. My poor wee child age six now has had them everywhere - including amongst an eyelash - nightmare to remove, on his private parts and various other places. I had one in my belly button and so had my husband. Nothing helps. I have tried insect repellent and tucking stuff in and brushing off the little buggers, but I have not tried rice milk. I also get devoured by midges....
I think steps like wearing a tight long sleeve top, having elasticated trouser cuffs, using repellent, brushing off, not sitting down in heather etc all help, otherwise you may as well just go out in shorts and tshirt!
Despite all that, they still bite. They can all remarkably fast and get anywhere. They will sit in your hair and hide their even after washing. My friend washed his clothes on a full on dirty cycle and after that he found one still alive walking around. They clearly don't even need any oxygen...
In reply to Heike: Not getting bitten is close to impossible if you live where we do. The kids are out playing in the garden and woods in Corpach and get a tick or 2 a week whatever clothing they wear and they are pretty good at spotting the wee beggars early and check themselves regularly. We keep tick removers in various locations in the house, car and first aid kits. I haven't resorted to covering them in repellant daily. Pretty much every time I go to Polldubh I come home with ticks on my clothes although I've been Smidging up my legs before putting trousers on this year and have noticed a reduction in bites (last year I probably had between 30 and 40 bites and similar the year before). I prefer Saltidin/Picaridin based repellants to Deet and find they last longer. Our cats despite being powdered bring them into the house. Local friends say that the pills they give their dog monthly make a big difference.
I have had a couple of bites this year where I have only found them c.30 hours later, most recently a couple of weeks ago, and have had no symptoms beyond itchiness at the bite site. In my position would others be heading straight for the Dr for a test and a course of anti-biotics?
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:
Great article and very timely. My wife has Lyme Disease,lots of bites in 2005 in Cheddar,but not really ill until 2013. She has loads of ongoing symptoms inc Lyme Carditis( where Lyme infects the heart).
Diagnosis took years despite the bullseye rash, positive blood tests and most Lyme symptoms. Most doctors are very reluctant to diagnose Lyme.
Symptoms of Lyme are so varied and often many years after the initial infection.Many are misdiagnosed with CFS,fibromyalgia and even MS.
Coincidentally one of my main climbing partners has a diagnosis of MS,as does another x country running friend. This second friend is now improving on Lyme treatment after 10 years deteriorating on MS drugs.
If you think you may have Lyme be aware that getting help on the NHS is very difficult other than for a recent infection. Treatment is long,costly,most often self funded and usually not UK based.
Do your best to avoid getting bitten,if you do, get researching!
Yeah, thats my thoughts, you can't avoid it...but I just can't get past people who say.."oh you just need to do xyz" You simply can't, when there are millions crawling over you. No worries, just need to brush and plug them off!
In case anyone was wondering, yes you can find them on your scrotum as I did last night. Must've been there since Tuesday or Wednesday, crap. At least now I know the tick removers work pretty well.
The fern are so high right now in Font that I was actually surprised I hadn't been bitten yet. Someone asked whether they're proliferating in other countries, well in France they are, though they are very unevenly distributed. I can't remember where are the hotspots and the "safe places", but I know Alsace is the worst affected.
It's weird, I'd never been bitten by a tick until last year I think, I was 24 and found about a dozen crawling over my legs after walking just once and for two seconds through tallish grass.
At least the Doctors in Lochaber seem very Lmye Disease aware. Everyone knows locals who have or have had it but treatment in the local surgeries seems to result in a large dose of antibiotics if there is any suspicion of it at all.
Front page of the Chamonix local paper has a big tick in a red circle and tick warning in big letters. Maybe if the uk press gave this a higher profile, there would more awareness of ticks. As it is I think it's just seen as a pet problem- the only place I could find a tick puller recently was at the pet shop or the vet.
In reply to Heike: Heike you are over simplifying my posts. I've never said do xyz and you won't get bitten. Howvever sensible precautions do lower the number of bites. Personally I think shorts for example are a very bad move in the highlands and would rather sweat it out with my trousers tucked in my socks and then brush any off periodically.
Public Health England have a tick surveillance programme to try and map which ticks occur where and how this is changing. They'll also email you back and tell you which variety bit you! It also covers Wales and Scotland, it would seem.
> Despite all that, they still bite. They can all remarkably fast and get anywhere. They will sit in your hair and hide their even after washing. My friend washed his clothes on a full on dirty cycle and after that he found one still alive walking around. They clearly don't even need any oxygen...
The advice I found said to place your (dry) clothes that you have just removed straight in the tumble dryer on high heat. Some say for 10 minutes others for an hour (i went for the full hour just to be safe). Apparently ticks can't tolerate dry heat.
> ... the only place I could find a tick puller recently was at the pet shop or the vet.
Awareness of the problem (and the problem itself, unfortunately) is greater in Scotland than the rest of the UK, I think. Most outdoor shops in Scotland sell a variety of tick pullers.
Related question: among other tools, I've used a 'tick twister' to pull some off the little bastards off, and it seems to me that, when using that tool, a direct outward pull is better than a twist - the latter seems to risk 'breaking' the tick and leaving parts of behind. Am I using the tool incorrectly?
Can you send the ticks off for analysis in the UK? You can in Alberta if you find one embedded in you and they'll tell you if it had Lymes. For ages the medical profession denied any cases were possible, but such testing has shown that about 5% of ticks carry the disease. A number of people have got it and faced great problems getting diagnosed and treated because many of the medical profession don't think it can happen here. Luckily that is changing.
In reply to Heike: Shorts are definitely a bad idea in Scotland, my 16 year old son returned from a sea kayak trip to Rum and a few days later complained to me about intense itching behind his scrotum which he couldn't see! I was horrified to discover about a dozen ticks and had to carefully remove them, like you with tweezers as it was 15 years ago. Nowadays I use A'Tom Twister which are brilliant. We laugh about it now, but honestly the things a mum has to do !!
Incidentally sheep often get the blame, but I think deer are more likely the carriers - Armathwaite woods are one of the worst areas for ticks and not a sheep in sight.
I never really wear shorts, but despite long trousers and socks we get them and yes, I have had to remove ticks in such delicate locations from my son and my husband in the past...eeek...(although I thought the worst was one between the eyelashes) Yeah, I think you are right it is deer mainly. This year I had loads of small ones, but also a couple of the really hideous huge red backed ones. Yuk!
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:
I live in Sweden and ticks are very common. I don't know if anyone above has mentioned it but apparently consuming a lot of garlic is a good way of preventing bites. It doesn't seem to matter if it's fresh or capsules.
Apparently lack of awareness by health professionals is a major issue here in the UK, which can and does lead to missed or wrong diagnosis, delayed treatment etc.
"Unfortunately UK consultants see few Lyme disease cases and experience is spread thinly across the UK's GPs. Although there are plans for a national clinic, the NHS has no specialists in Lyme disease." Quoted from: http://www.lymediseaseaction.org.uk/about-lyme/treatment/
Fortunately, my GP was more aware and, based on the appearance of the bite area 2-3 weeks after being bitten by a tick during a day's climbing in the Rhinogydd, I'm currently on an extended course of Doxycycline, hopefully just as a purely precautionary measure.
Apparently, less than 10% of UK ticks are infected with the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium which causes Lymes, so the chances of being infected are low, especially as transmission to the host doesn't happen unless the tick has begun feeding. Nevertheless, it might be worth keeping a close eye on your little one just in case he/she starts to show any symptoms. Better to be safe ... etc.
There's a big difference between becoming alarmed and being aware of the symptoms and keeping an eye out for them. By the time I discovered the tick, it had been feeding on me for at least 30 hours and it was only when the bite area showed some notable characteristics 2-3 weeks later did I go and see my GP. Hence the antibiotics - which wouldn't have been prescribed if he wasn't equally concerned.
That's a different matter altogether. Have you fully read my post, including the links - especially the first one?
Felt's GP stated that there was no Lymes disease in the Lyme Regis area. The Public Health England info that I linked to states that "Lymes disease is endemic throughout the UK." In other words, it's found from Dorset to Dounreay and everywhere else in between. So I think I was on pretty safe ground to opinion that: "it would appear that your GP is seriously misinformed and needs to become familiar with advice provided by Public Health England."
So yes, what I wrote does imply a criticism of the GP's lack of awareness of the disease's geographical distribution.
I wore shorts in deer country by Loch Maree, big mistake. 36 hours later sat in a fine Glasgow whisky bar my wife told me to stop scratching my b*lls in public. Got back to the B&B at midnight & I told her she'd better investigate. She had a good look, pulled out the tweezers and 6 ticks later announced success. I scratched again & she announced 1 more to get out. Suddenly blood everywhere, must have nicked a capillary. What d'ya do when you're bleeding from an embarasing spot,Saturday midnight in Glasgow. Hospital she said, no f'n way I said. 'What'll they think I've been upto"
Swammi'd my nether regions with towels & spare underpants & I managed not to leave blood stains at the B&B.
Reported to the doctor back home in Blackburn who told me not to worry, could take a decade for Lyme Disease to evidence itself....but 'to be on the safe side' gave me a course of antibiotics.
It was 20 odd years ago going to Adrspach (Czech Republic) we bought special injections (at no small expense) through the NHS to protect ourselves from Lyme, my doctor then knew little about it.
Is there an injection still available???
"Apparently, less than 10% of UK ticks are infected with the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium which causes Lymes, so the chances of being infected are low, especially as transmission to the host doesn't happen unless the tick has begun feeding. Nevertheless, it might be worth keeping a close eye on your little one just in case he/she starts to show any symptoms. Better to be safe ... etc."
I'm interested in the final text:
"As a postscript, (and a more negative note) there is also a belief that ticks are not the only way that Lyme Disease is spread. There is a theory, as yet just a theory, that mosquitos and midges may also spread the disease."
According to both the Centre for Disease Control, and the American Lyme Disease Foundation there is no evidence of this. I know there is a fair bit of unscientific info around on lyme disease - is this something else that people have started believing without any good evidence?
> It was 20 odd years ago going to Adrspach (Czech Republic) we bought special injections (at no small expense) through the NHS to protect ourselves from Lyme, my doctor then knew little about it.
> Is there an injection still available???
As others have stated, this was probably for tick-borne encephalitis (endemic to parts of the Continent, including the Czech Republic) for which a vaccination exists (indeed I think is free on certain health insurance plans there), and not Lyme disease for which I believe there is no vaccination.
Ah, but there used to be (Smith Kline Beecham IIRC), but it was dropped because of low uptake as well as the usual ill-informed media chat ('Lyme disease vaccine made me grow another head', etc) so i think it became uneconomic to continue manufacturing it...although there is one for dogs available in the UK & USA
Just to keep this in the forefront of people's minds, and to reinforce the fact not everyone gets a rash, I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease a week ago on the basis of lethargy, headaches and sore joints.
These symptoms came on a month after I removed several ticks during a trip to Scotland (Glencoe and Skye FWIW).
I suppose I was lucky in that I knew I'd been bitten and was aware of the disease and its symptoms. Fortunately my doctor was equally as clued up and started treatment straight away - the antibiotics are working, in so much as I can now make it up the stairs without having to stop for a breather!
Anyway, well done for posting the article up. I've been aware of Lyme Disease for a long time, but anything to raise and maintain awareness can only be a good thing.
Thanks for the update. I thought this bit was interesting:
Lyme disease. Scientists know that the disease is caused by several different species of bacteria that adhere to the inner lining of the tick’s gut and typically make the jump into a human’s bloodstream only after a full day of feeding.
So get them off fairly pronto and you should be OK.
Having said that I got tick fever when in Rifle and the tick that got me was certainly off fairly quickly. But different for Lyme disease I'm assuming.
A really bad place for ticks is Jura, so the Fell race and training on the Island are dodgy. My dog got a bad one there, swelled up like a baked bean. But we found that covering your exposed skin in Deep Heat kept them off, successfully.