People are being urged to be beware of blood sucking ticks as they head out to the countryside as lockdown restrictions ease.

Ticks – which carry potentially fatal infections such as Lyme Disease- become more prevalent between May and September.

The number of cases of Lyme Disease has increased – particularly in the south west – in recent years.

Ticks are small, spider like creatures which feed on the blood of animals and humans.

Ticks can be found throughout the year but are most active between Spring and the autumn.

Most tick bites occur during spring and summer because this is the time of year when most people take part in outdoor activities.

Damp, shady dense vegetation, dead leaves or long grass provide the perfect habitat for the creatures.

Ticks don’t jump or fly, but climb on to people or animals as they brush past.

They then bite into the skin and attach themselves, before they start feeding on the blood of their new host.

Ticks on the finger
(Image: Lyme Disease UK)

Ticks prefer warm places on the body, especially the groin area, waist, armpits, behind the knee and along hairlines.

Public Health England (PHE) has a large amount of advice for people how to avoid getting bitten and what steps to take for those who do.

Dominic Mellon, Acting Deputy Director of Health Protection for Public Health England South West said: “As we progress through the roadmap and lifting of restrictions, more people are enjoying the better weather and getting outside, especially for exercise, while outside, it is important to always be tick aware.

“Ticks are common in England and are mainly found during spring and early autumn, and are at reduced levels during winter.

“Ticks can be found in woodlands, grassland, moorland and heathland and in some urban parks, gardens and meadows.

“It is important to note that tick presence does not always mean there will be a presence of Lyme disease causing bacteria (Borrelia), however, PHE encourages tick checking and prompt and safe removal whenever anyone has been potentially exposed.

“To avoid getting bitten, you should wear trousers and a long-sleeved top to reduce exposure to ticks, stick to clearly defined paths and use insect repellent.

“The safest way to remove a tick is to use fine-tipped tweezers or a tick removal tool.

“Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, and pull upwards slowly and firmly.

“If you have been bitten and start to feel unwell with flu-like symptoms or develop a spreading circular red rash after being bitten or spending time outdoors, you should visit your GP or call NHS 111.

“Remember to tell them where you have been and if you were bitten.”

There are an estimated 2,000 – 3,000 new case of Lyme Disease in England and Wales each year.

People who spend time outdoors in areas where ticks are found are most at risk of developing Lyme disease.

Most tick bites happen in late spring, early summer and autumn because these are peak feeding periods for ticks and the time of year when most people take part in outdoor activities.

Lyme disease can be treated effectively with antibiotics if it’s detected early on.

But if not treated or treatment is delayed, there’s a risk of developing severe and long-lasting symptoms.

At present there is no vaccine available, so prevention is key to avoid contracting the disease.

The tick must be attached for 36-48 hours before the bacteria can spread, so early detection is important to prevent further complications. The risk of Lyme disease transmission increases with the length of time the tick is attached.

To avoid contracting Lyme disease, we need to be more tick aware
Bites are more common during warmer weather.
(Image: NHS)

How to prevent Lyme disease

As there is no vaccine available to prevent Lyme disease, awareness is paramount when it comes to prevention.

There a precautions that you can take to reduce the risk of infection if you are visiting woodlands or grassy areas where ticks are commonly found:

* Wear appropriate long clothing that covers the skin – consider tucking trousers into socks

* Keep to footpaths and avoid long grass

* Wear light colours so it is easier to spot a tick on your clothes

* Use insect repellent on exposed skin

* Inspect the skin for ticks – particularly at the end of the day. Be sure to check the head, neck, armpits, groin and waistband.

* Check children’s head and neck area thoroughly – including the scalp

* Check pets for ticks

* Make sure no ticks are brought into the home on clothing.

How to safely remove a tick

Tick numbers are on the rise, potentially causing Lyme disease

The NHS has specific advice when it comes to removing a tick:

* If you find a tick on your or your child’s skin, remove it by gently gripping it as close to the skin as possible.

* Use a pair of tweezers that won’t squash the tick (such as fine-tipped tweezers), or use a tick removal tool (available from pet shops or vets).

* Pull steadily away from the skin without twisting or crushing the tick.

* Wash your skin with water and soap afterwards, and apply an antiseptic cream to the skin around the bite.

* Don’t use a lit cigarette end, a match head or substances such as alcohol or petroleum jelly to force the tick out.

* Some veterinary surgeries and pet shops sell inexpensive tick removal devices, which may be useful if you frequently spend time in areas where there are ticks.

What are the symptoms of Lyme Disease?

Tick

According to the NHS website, many people with early-stage Lyme disease develop a distinctive circular rash at the site of the tick bite, usually around three to 30 days after being bitten. This is known as erythema migrans.

This rash is described as looking like a bullseye and the affected area will be red and may feel slightly raised.

Typically it is around 15cm in diameter, although can be larger or smaller. Some people may develop rashes in several places on their body.

However a third of people with Lyme disease will not be marked.

People with early stage symptoms sometimes experience flu-like complaints such as tiredness, muscle pain, headaches, fever and chills.

If the disease is left untreated or is not treated early on, more serious symptoms may develop several weeks, months or even years after the initial bite.

These symptoms can include

* Pain and swelling in the joints – known as inflammatory arthritis

* Problems with the nervous system such as numbness and pain, paralysis of facial muscles, difficulty concentrating and memory loss.

* Heart problems

* Meningitis.

Some people with disease go on to develop post-infectious Lyme disease which causes symptoms similar to fibromyalgia such as fatigue, difficulty sleeping, problems with memory, headaches and increased sensitivity to pain.

This is likely to be a reaction to overactivity or the immune system rather than the infection.

Although it is thought only a small proportion of ticks carry the disease. it is important to seek medical advice from your GP if you are bitten and begin to feel unwell.

What you should do if you think you may have Lyme disease?

If you are bitten by a tick and start to develop symptoms, a GP will usually prescribe a course of antibiotics.

Early stages of Lyme disease can be treated very effectively with antibiotics, but those with late onset symptoms may require a much longer course of treatment, often from specialists to address any complications.

The infection is usually diagnosed by a blood test, however these can give a false negative in the early stage.

You may need to be re-tested if Lyme disease is still suspected after a negative test result.

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