2 April 2013
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. Unfortunately, various factors now mean that we are at increased risk of contracting a tick-borne infection.
Tick Bite Prevention Week coincides with the startof Tick season (March to October) and provides information to help prevent ticks from biting people and pets. It also gives advice on what to do if ticks do attach. The campaign week is held in early spring when the weather gets warmer, people spend more time outdoors and ticks become more active. Once again this year the CWU Health, Safety & Environment Department will be working with the two main Charities involved in Ticks and Tick-borne disease issues in the UK. There are two charities striving for greater awareness of Lyme disease and associated tick-borne diseases; Borreliosis and Associated Diseases Awareness UK (BADA-UK) and Lyme Disease Action.
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. There are several species of tick in the UK, but the one most likely to bite humans is the sheep tick. Despite its name, the sheep tick will feed from a wide variety of mammals and birds.
A Tick bite usually looks like a lump with a small scab on the skin surface. The Tick bite itself is usually painless and most people will only know they have been bitten if they happen to see a feeding tick attached to them. Once a tick has started to feed, its body will become filled with blood and can swell to many times its original size.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.
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.
Early detection and treatment of the disease helps to relieve the symptoms and shorten the illness.
Reports suggest that the Tick population in the UK and its distribution is increasing. New research 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 increase can't be pinpointed exactly, but factors 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.
If you are involved in outdoor work or leisure activities that take you into the countryside or into parks or gardens or areas of vegetation and foliage where there's lots of wildlife (such as squirrels, hedgehogs, foxes, badgers, mice, deer, birds), you may be at risk of tick bites. Farm animals can also carry Ticks. The National Farmers Union report that sheep act as a "mop" as Ticks attach themselves to the animals as they graze.
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.
The absence of any early symptoms and mis-diagnosis 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 it is 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.
To minimise the risk of being bitten by an infected tick:
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.