Tips on Ticks and Lyme Disease

Charity Tick Talk Ireland is hosting Ireland's first Lyme disease conference in early June. So how should walkers both here and in Ireland avoid this tick-borne disease?

Female tick, 128 kb
Female tick
© Dr Keith Ryan, Dartmoor Tick Watch

This UKC article is a good place to start.

Lyme disease is currently the world's fastest growing vector-borne infection (spread by ticks), and an increasing problem in many countries including the UK and Ireland. As the Republic's first Lyme disease charity Tick Talk Ireland hope to spread awareness and encourage quick diagnosis and treatment of this debilitating disease. The symptoms of Lyme may vary according to the stage of disease and can range from mild to severe, and may emerge months or even years after the initial infection. Because of their exposure to ticks walkers and climbers are among the groups at higher risk of contracting the disease, which is still poorly understood by health services in both the UK and Ireland.

'In Ireland there are lab confirmed cases of between 50-100 per year, but we believe this to be a serious underestimation' says Jenny O'Dea of Tick Talk Ireland.

'According to a 2009 report in the Irish Medical Journal the Republic of Ireland has one of the highest rates of Lyme disease in Europe, and it is endemic in the west of the country. In another study by University College Hospital Galway the number of cases was as high as 151 cases per 100,000. The Connemara region of Galway was worst hit. In comparison the Highlands of Scotland (another endemic area) have an average of 81 cases per 100,000 in peak season. Vigilance is needed in other Irish counties, as cases have been known in Kilkenny, Kildare, Cork & Mayo among others. A study in Killarney National Park, Co. Kerry cited tick infection rates between 11 and 29%.'

So why are lab-confirmed cases so few?

'Patients & doctors are not always aware of the dangers in Ireland & the UK, instead believing it to be a US disease. Lab tests may also fail to pick it up. Unfortunately this is a sticking point for many patients; if they go overseas for testing these results are disregarded by the medical profession here so patients end up having to see a private specialist at their own cost due to disbelief amd lack of knowledge from the NHS (or HSE in Ireland).'

'Prevention & knowledge is the best way to keep this disease at bay' says Jenny. 'You can learn more on prevention tips, danger spots across the country, talks on tick-borne infections in animals, testing, treatment and research at our upcoming conference.'

More generally, what can walkers and climbers do to prevent infection? Here are some tips from Jenny:

  • Tuck your trousers into socks or boots and tuck shirts into trousers to minimise the chance of ticks getting to exposed skin.
  • Wear light coloured clothing to make any attached ticks easier to spot.
  • Check yourself and children every couple of hours for attached ticks.
  • Apply insect repellent with 20%-30% DEET to any exposed skin.
  • You can also apply Permethrin to clothing (do not apply directly to skin) which can be bought in camping or hunting shops.
  • Avoid wooded areas with tall grass and try to stay in the centre of trails to avoid tree branches, leaves and long grass where ticks usually lie in wait for an unsuspecting victim to brush past.
  • Once home check your entire body for ticks. Important areas to check are behind the ears, inside the outer ear, under the arms, behind knees, the trunk of the body and the scalp [also the groin, Ed.].
  • If you find any ticks remove them. For information on removing a tick safely see Tick Talk Ireland's Safe Tick Removal page.

The conference on June 5-6 at Clontarf Castle, Dublin, is aimed at anyone from walkers, campers and park rangers to patients diagnosed with the disease and health professionals. It will cover a wide variety of topics including prevention, testing, treatment, research and tick borne infections in animals. For more info see the event website.

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