Last summer I got a tick! I re-read the information I needed and headed off to the local pharmacy and got myself a tick removal card. Then, with the help of a colleague, we removed it and that was that. The tick removal card, the size of a credit card, now stays in my wallet just in case and this experience led to us developing our own branded tick removal cards.
Ticks are something all of us who love the outdoors need to know about and you don’t need to be a walker to be aware of this. May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month so I went to Lyme Disease Action who were only too happy to share their knowledge in this blog.
Watch out! Ticks about!
But don’t let them spoil your walks!
It isn’t actually the walking that puts you at risk, so much as the sitting down and having a rest. But what sort of risk are we talking about?
In the UK the risk is small. First the tick has to find you, then it has to attach to you and stay attached for enough hours to pass a disease on to you. Your tick may, of course, not be carrying any diseases anyhow! However, keep reading, because the possible diseases can be serious, so it’s worth understanding a bit more.
Ticks are tiny, spider-like creatures that latch onto skin for a blood meal and may pass on disease in the process. They have a complex life cycle that starts with eggs laid by an adult female – the pea sized tick you may have seen attached to a cat or dog – easy to spot! The egg hatches into a tiny larval tick which is so small you may not even spot it. This latches onto a mouse or bird from which it may pick up disease. Areas rich in wildlife host more ticks – whether woodland or your garden! The larval tick spends several days feeding and then drops to the ground and changes into the nymph stage.
The nymph tick matters to you as this is the one most likely to attach to a human. It is about the size of a poppy seed to start with. Ticks can’t stand drying out, so on a hot dry day they are more likely to be down near the ground. When the humidity is right, the tick climbs a leaf or stalk and waits for a warm blooded animal to pass by. It uses hooks on its front legs to latch onto fur or clothing and climbs aboard.
It then has to find bare skin. If you tuck your trousers into socks and brush your clothes off before going inside, the tick may not even get that far. But the tick can walk quite fast, and there are gaps in clothing, and who wants to wear all that clothing on a sunny day anyhow?
So the tick is on your skin and has found a comfortable spot behind your knee, say. It has barbed mouthparts and drills into your skin to find a blood supply. Unlike a mosquito, the tick spends some hours preparing a feeding pit to ensure it can access a blood supply. As well as injecting an anticoagulant, to ensure the blood flows, it also injects immunosuppressive compounds and an anaesthetic and so your body does not immediately react. At this stage, and probably for the next 12 hours or so, you won’t feel a thing.
What about these nasty diseases though? Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease in UK ticks. It is caused by bacteria called Borrelia which stay dormant in the cold blooded tick, while the tick is moulting between stages. When the tick starts to feed on warm blood, bacteria are mobilised, change their structure slightly ready to cause disease and only now are they released into your blood stream. Clever stuff!
Back home, maybe the next morning, you have a shower. Running your hands over your skin, you feel a small scab, and find you can rock it back and forth. Reach for your tick remover, and take it off! That might be all you have to do as the tick may not have been one of the roughly one in ten which carries disease in the UK, and may not have had time to pass anything to you.
However, just be aware of what you feel. The site of the tick bite will stay red for a day or two and then fade. Lyme disease causes a red expanding rash that starts on average about 2 weeks after the bite. Plain red, it generally doesn’t itch, and might be on part of your body you can’t see. Flu like symptoms are the most common early symptoms – headaches, fatigue, numbness or tingling skin and pain in muscles or joints. Consult your GP and show the photograph that (of course!) you took of the rash.
Your GP will treat you without a test if you have the typical spreading rash. Treatment in the early stages is very successful, but disseminated disease can mimic other conditions, so awareness of a preceding tick bite can be crucial to diagnosis. If untreated the disease can affect the nervous system, joints and heart.
There are other less common diseases carried by UK ticks – see the LDA website for more information on these.
So now you know! Just be aware and check yourself after a walk and have a tick remover in your first aid kit. Simple really!
You can find out more about the work of Lyme Disease Action here.
If you are interested in how to get one of our 1 Million Women Walking Tick Remover cards then email Suzanne.