The editors tells us why we need to be aware of tick bites
A short while ago I had a deeply serious and shocking conversation with a very ill man. He’d been bitten by a common tick and contracted Lyme disease, an illness not all that well known in the UK and Europe, but one that’s a huge problem in North America where it was first understood. Doctors there are very well aware of the problem, but British GPs might never have encountered it and believe they’re looking at a different illness, such as fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome. Because this man’s illness had gone undiagnosed for years, he’d had all manner of problems that had left him quite disabled, which is all the more upsetting when you understand that if he’d been treated promptly, in all likelihood he’d have been fine.
Worryingly, it seems that the reported incidence of Lyme disease in on the increase, so it’s important that we’re all aware of how we can contract it and what to do if we are bitten by a tick. In my own village, I read recently of two children who’d been bitten by ticks on a local playing field, so you don’t need to be far out in the countryside to be in danger. However, there are areas more likely to hold high tick numbers, such as farmland that carries sheep and also areas with high deer populations, so extra caution is needed in these areas. They’re most active from March to October, although they can be found if warm periods occur at other times of the year
Over the years, I’ve removed ticks from my Labradors and it seems common that they find dogs a useful host. Interestingly, the dogs have never shown any sign of discomfort as I’ve removed ticks. As the dogs speed through the long grass, the ticks grab onto their fur and then find their way up to the neck area where they burrow down through the fur to reach the skin. They bite through and drink the blood to gain nourishment. I’ve seen them when they’re empty and hungry and also when they’re bloated and full of blood, by which time they’re as big as a piece of sweet corn.
To remove them I use a special tool that hooks under the head and with three anti- clockwise twists, removes the creature whole. If you just rip it off, you will leave the biting parts embedded in the skin, which may well become infected. Never squeeze or crush the body while it’s still attached because this will force the contents back through the mouth into the host, increasing the chance of infection. Similarly, don’t try to burn it or attack it with chemicals. Only a slow steady pull will remove it whole and in a hygienic way. It’s wise to clean the bite site after removal with an antiseptic, too. If you don’t have a tick- removal tool, the next best thing is to grip the tick as close to the head as possible with some fine tweezers and gently pull it away. It’s important to note that the majority of ticks do not carry Lyme disease, so don’t automatically become distressed if you are bitten, just be aware.
Of course, a tick doesn’t care if you’re a dog, a cat, a rabbit, a deer … or a human. We’re all just a source of nourishment to them and this is why we must be aware. If you’ve been out in the countryside, it’s best to check yourself all over to see if one has attached to you and there’s no better way than to have a shower. Gruesomely, they’re most
likely to attach to your groin area, making their presence all the more unpleasant.
The rules for removal are just the same for us as they are for your dog, and if the tick is attached in an awkward place, if you know what I mean, you may well have to ask for help, no matter how embarrassing that might be. Ensure that you kill the tick before disposing of the body hygienically. I fold them into some kitchen paper, crush them flat and flush the lot down the toilet.
It’s most important that you carefully monitor the bite site for months after because one of the common signs that you have Lyme disease is a rash that resembles a bull’s eye. Other symptoms include headaches, muscle and joint pain, tiredness and a loss of energy, and flu- type symptoms, like being both hot and shivery. If you have any of these, see your doctor urgently and explain your concerns about Lyme disease and tick bites. It’s most likely that your doctor will do a blood test to diagnose exactly what’s going on. If Lyme disease is shown in the results, a three- week course of antibiotics is the usual prescription and for most people, the recovery is quick. However, some take longer, and a tiny minority take a very long time and may need to see a specialist. As with many illnesses, it seems the quicker the diagnosis, the better the outcome is likely to be.
An American doctor told me that Stateside, they prescribe a 200mg dose of doxycycline within 72 hours of any tick bite, as a precautionary measure, but I don’t know if that’s being adopted here.
As the old saying goes, prevention is better than a cure, so what can we do to avoid the ticks getting on to our skin and biting us? There are many, and in no particular order here they are: Wear long trousers so that the ticks cannot grab directly onto your leg hair. Some people tuck their trousers into their socks to add another barrier to the ticks, but it’s not 100% effective because they can crawl through open-weave fabrics. Wear high- quality insect repellent that contains a high percentage of the active ingredient DEET. This is not an area to save money – buy the good stuff!
Perhaps the most effective deterrent is to buy clothing that has in- built insect repellent, like the ones offered by Rovince. Their clothes are treated with ZECKProtec, which forms a barrier that the ticks cannot hold on to, so they slide off before they can do harm. Because they cannot attach to the fabric, it also reduces the chance of ticks being transported into your car or home where they could attack your or your family later. Clearly, it’s important to check your dogs regularly before they enter your home for the same reason. I once found a huge, bloated tick on the carpet that had fed on my dog and then detached itself because it was full. Had I not found it, it might well have attacked again later when it had digested its meal.
Please don’t let this article alarm you or discourage you from getting out into the countryside. Despite spending huge amounts of my life in our beautiful outdoors, I’ve never been bitten by a tick, plus the majority of bites are quite harmless. However, I do want you to be as informed as possible so that you can enjoy your sport safely.
“In my own village, I read recently of two children who’d been bitten by ticks on a local playing field”
ABOVE: They might be small, but ticks can be harmful MAIN: Our beloved countryside is not without its worries
ABOVE LEFT: The bull’s- eye rash is a very worrying symptom
ABOVE RIGHT: Once attached, you should remove ticks with great care
TOP: A proper ‘ tick tool’ is the best answer in my world
BELOW: Use the best insect repellent you can find