The summer season is a great time to make the most of the great outdoors, with hiking, camping and gardening all much easier and more enjoyable in warmer weather.
But spending more time outside means a heightened risk of tick bites, which can, in some cases, result in Lyme disease.
What are ticks?
Ticks are tiny, spider-like creatures which feed on the blood of animals and humans, and are commonly found in woodland and moorland, particularly in areas with long grass.
They don’t jump or fly, but will climb on to you if you brush against something they’re on. The tick will then bite and attach to the skin, where they will feed on blood for several days before dropping off.
Ticks are most active between spring and autumn and are widespread across the UK, but the most high-risk areas include grassy and wooded areas in southern England and the Scottish Highlands.
What are the health risks?
Lyme Disease can sometimes be transmitted by the bite of a tick which is infected with borrelia burgdorferi, although only around 10 per cent of ticks carry the harmful bacteria.
According to Public Health England, you are more likely to become infected if the tick remains attached to your skin for more than 24 hours, but since they are small and their bites are not painful, they can be easy to miss.
The NHS advises seeking treatment from your GP promptly if you spot any of the following symptoms:
- A circular red skin rash around a tick bite
- A high temperature, or feeling hot and shivery
- Muscle and joint pain
- Tiredness and loss of energy
Some people can develop more severe symptoms of Lyme disease months or even years later if treatment is delayed, including:
- Pain and swelling in joints
- Nerve problems, such as pain or numbness
- Heart problems
- Trouble with memory or concentration
If your GP suspects you have Lyme disease, they will prescribe a three week course of antibiotics to treat it.
Where do ticks usually bite?
Ticks prefer moist areas of the body and are often found in harder to see areas of the body, such as in the folds of the skin.
Areas including the groin, armpits, back of the knees and on the scalp are common areas for ticks to attach.
How to get rid of a tick
To remove a tick safely, the NHS advises taking the following steps:
- Use fine-tipped tweezers or a tick-removal tool, which can be bought from some pharmacies, vets and pet shops
- Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible
- Slowly pull upwards, taking care not to squeeze or crush the tick
- Dispose of it when you have removed it
- Clean the bite with antiseptic, or soap and water
- Contact your GP if you begin to feel unwell with flu-like symptoms or develop a spreading circular red rash
How to avoid ticks
If you have been walking through high risk areas, such as woodland or long grass, it is advisable to check yourself for ticks as a precaution, paying close attention to folds in the skin and the hairline.
To reduce the risk of being bitten, take the following precautions when heading outdoors:
- Cover your skin when walking outdoors
- Tuck your trousers into your socks, or wear longer socks when walking through long grass
- Use insect repellent on your clothes and skin – products containing DEET (diethyltoluamide) are most effective
- Stick to paths wherever possible
- Wear light-coloured clothing, so ticks are easier to spot and brush off
- Carry out a tick check