Advice on Ticks

Ticks and Lyme Disease

Ticks are tiny black beasties which bite sheep and deer, and humans if they get the chance.   We pick them up from bracken and heather and the like.   They get onto skin through open weave material like socks, so climbers, gaiters or similar are some protection and repellant or insecticidal sprays on clothing may be worth considering.  Shorts are better avoided in tick territory. 


Once on your nice warm skin, ticks often stroll for some distance so you may find them anywhere!   They embed their business end in your skin and, left to themselves, suck enough blood over a day or two to swell up and resemble a dark green bean.   With all that protein on board, they drop off and find a cosy place in the undergrowth to breed (or get squashed messily on your carpet).   They used to be a problem only in summer but are less strictly seasonal now.


An uncomplicated tick bite will be quite itchy, swell and redden a bit, and last for a few days at least, pretty much like any insect bite.   You may be able to see a black dot in the middle which is the remains of the tick’s head end (!)


All this would be merely inconvenient were it not for a small minority of ticks being infected with Lyme disease which they may pass on to humans.   Lyme disease can cause very persistent ill health so it is important.   It is easily and effectively treatable in the early stages, not so later.


If you have been in tick territory, look for them when you shower.   Soap down enthusiastically.   If you find one which won’t wash off, do not fiddle with it, nor apply antiseptics, glowing cigarettes, hypnotism or reflexology.  Irritated ticks tend, as we all do, to throw up, into you,  Lyme disease and all.   Simply get hold of it as close as possible to the skin with your nails or tweezers and pull it straight out (you can buy a special tick removing tool from vet surgeries).   You may leave a bit in, it often can’t be helped.


Then keep an eye on it.   The bite may get a bit red as would any other insect bite.


That is OK.   But if after a few days, up to a few weeks, an area of spreading redness develops around the bite, often becoming as big as an orange, grapefruit, melon or football, this needs attention.   Often the spreading redness and a flu-like illness come together.   These are the early features of Lyme disease.


The treatment of early Lyme disease is taking the right antibiotic, promptly.   Doctors around here mostly know about Lyme disease.   City docs may not.   The management in these early stages is NOT a blood test.   The tests are unreliable early in the condition.   Early antibiotic is important because treatment is less effective later in the condition.


Some docs give antibiotic treatment to everyone who has a tick bite, without waiting for early signs of Lyme disease.  If the tick has been embedded for long enough to swell up, the risk of Lyme disease may be greater.  In these circumstances, particularly, it may be worth seeing your doctor without waiting for the rash, etc.


Alan Munro