Ticks and Lyme disease

Date Published: 12th May 2019

Are you tick aware? – Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that can be spread to humans by infected ticks. It’s usually easier to treat if it’s diagnosed early.

What are ticks?

Ticks are second only to mosquitoes for carrying disease to humans. Ticks have eight legs (apart from the larve, which have six), so they are not insects, but are ARACHNIDS and are related to spiders, mites and scorpions. They go through four stages in their life cycle – egg, larva, nymph, then adult. Ticks feed on the blood of their host (animal or human) and can attach themselves almost anywhere on the body. Special mouth parts and saliva allow the tick to fix itself securely into the skin, where it feeds for a number of days. Wildlife is rarely affected but farm animals, domestic pets and people are, as they have no resistance.

The adult tick is about the size of a pea. It has fed so its body has stretched and is full of blood.

The primary illness to affect humans is Lyme disease. Symptoms usually begin a few days or weeks after a tick bite, but sometimes it can be months. Not every tick carries infective organisms, and not every bite will transmit disease. However, the longer an infected tick is allowed to feed the more likely it is that an infection will result.

Where are ticks found?

Ticks can be found in woodland, moors and even parks and gardens all over the UK. Some can even survive in houses. Some ticks can be as small as a poppy seed and in a split second they climb on as people or animals brush past, then look for a safe place to feed. Ticks are more abundant in late spring to early summer and again during autumn. However, they can be active all year round during milder weather (above 3.5C).

Symptoms of Lyme disease:-

The disease causes widespread symptoms which are often mistaken for other illnesses such as ‘Summer Flu’, Fibromyalgia, Arthritis, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Depression, MS, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s to name a few. Many people don’t even notice they have been bitten and those with early symptoms of Lyme disease may develop a circular red skin rash around a tick bite. The rash can appear up to 3 months after being bitten by a tick and usually lasts for several weeks. Most rashes appear within the first 4 weeks. However, it is important to note that a large percentage of people never develop the rash. The rash is often described as looking like a bull’s-eye on a dartboard and the skin will be red and the edges may feel slightly raised

Initial Symptoms can include:-

Flu-like symptoms in the early stages, such as:-

a high temperature, or feeling hot and shivery, headaches, muscle and joint pain, tiredness and loss of energy, numbness or tingling. As the disease progresses neurological and cardiac complications can occur.

Most tick bites are harmless:-

Only a small number of ticks are infected with the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. A tick bite can only cause Lyme disease in humans if the tick has already bitten an infected animal. It is still important to be aware of ticks and to safely remove them as soon as possible, just in case.

How to spot and remove ticks:-

Tick bites aren’t always painful. You may not notice a tick unless you see it on your skin. Regularly check your skin and your children’s or pets’ skin after being outdoors.

To remove a tick safely:

Use fine-tipped tweezers or a tick-removal tool – you can buy these from some pharmacies, vets and pet shops. Follow the instructions which accompany the tool. Popular tick removal tools enable the body of the tick to be cradled and then a twisting action can be applied in one direction only to safely remove it.

Packs often contain two different sized tools so choose the most suitable one according to the size of the tick.

Engage the tool as close to the skin as possible by approaching the tick from the side until it is held securely.

Lift the tool very slightly and TURN IT (clockwise or anti-clockwise). Slowly pull upwards, taking care not to squeeze or crush the tick. The tick detaches itself after 2-3 rotations. Dispose of it when you’ve removed it by crushing it in between a piece of paper or a tissue and flush it down the toilet. If you choose to save the tick for later identification, place it in a sealed bag and store it in the freezer after writing the date on the bag.

Clean the bite with antiseptic or soap and water.

The risk of getting ill is low. You don’t need to do anything else unless you become unwell.

See your GP if:-

you’ve been bitten by a tick or visited an area in the past month where infected ticks are found and you get:

flu-like symptoms – such as feeling hot and shivery, headaches, aching muscles or feeling sick, or a circular red rash

Tell them if you’ve been in forests or grassy areas.

Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose. It has similar symptoms to other conditions and there is not always an obvious rash. Two types of blood test are available to help confirm or rule out Lyme disease. However, these tests are not always accurate in the early stages of the disease. You may need to be re-tested if you still have Lyme disease symptoms after a negative result.

Treatment from your GP:-

If your GP thinks you might have Lyme disease, they’ll prescribe a 3-week course of antibiotics. It’s important to finish the course, even if you start to feel better. Some people with severe symptoms will be referred to a specialist in hospital for injections of antibiotics.

Most people with Lyme disease get better after antibiotic treatment. This can take months for some people, but the symptoms should improve over time. People with symptoms of Lyme disease that last a long time after treatment may be referred to a specialist in hospital for advice and more blood tests.

How to avoid and protect yourself from tick bites:-

cover your skin while walking outdoors and tuck your trousers into your socks

use insect repellent on your clothes and skin – products containing DEET are best

stick to paths whenever possible

wear light-coloured clothing so ticks are easier to spot and brush off

Check your body carefully for ticks after being outdoors especially if walking in woodland and moors.

Don’t bring ticks home. Check clothing and pets for ticks to avoid bringing them inside.

Protect your pets. Talk to your vet about tick treatments


Ongoing symptoms:-

A few people who are diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease continue to have symptoms – like tiredness, aches and loss of energy – that can last for years. These symptoms are often compared to fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.

It’s not clear why this happens to some people and not others. This means there is also no agreed treatment.

Speak to your doctor if your symptoms come back after treatment with antibiotics or don’t start to improve. Your doctor may be able to offer you further support if needed

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