The season is upon us once again where we like to venture out into the wilds, to tick off another Wainright or climb that impossible climb but we need to be careful, there is a monster out there!
Ixodes ricinus, Ixodes hexagonus and Ixodes canisuga are among the little blighters that can attack you unexpectedly. The former being the most common and the most likely one to bite you is known as the sheep tick.
So what are they?
Ticks are related to mites, spiders and scorpions and have a four stage life cycle lasting ~ 2 years; egg, larva, nymph, adult. They only feed once per cycle which can last up to 7 days if not disturbed. They do this by waiting in vegetation for a passer by, before transferring onto the host and burrowing their heads into the flesh engorging themselves on blood for nutrition before dropping back to the ground to move onto the next cycle.
So what is the problem?
When having a meal, the tick can pick up a disease from its host and when it feeds again during its next cycle, it can pass this on to the next animal or person. The longer it is attached the bigger the risk and as the ‘bite’ is often undetected it cannot be certain how long it has been feeding. It is important to note that not all ticks carry infection but one that is, Lyme disease is a serious illness which can be transferred in this way particularly by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. More and more people are being diagnosed within the UK due to the widespread regions that infected ticks inhabit, but particularly in:
- the New Forest
- the South Downs
- Thetford Forest
- the North Yorkshire Moors
- the Lake District
- the Scottish Highland
So what could happen?
Diagnosis of Lyme’s disease in its early stages can be difficult as the symptoms can differ quite a lot from person to person, some of which will not even show any. In general though there are 3 stages.
- A ‘Bulls-eye’ type red rash (Erythema migrans) can appear in ~ 35-50% of cases within a 3 week period post bite. This slowly grows and fades in the middle before dissipating altogether.
- Flu like symptoms with typical low grade fever, severe intermittent headaches, stiffness in the neck, arms and legs. Cardiac abnormalities can occur in 4-10% of cases including AV Block progressing sometimes to Complete heart block. Arthritis can occur in untreated persons developing from between a few weeks and up to 2 years post event.
- Chronic symptoms- worsening joint pain, arrhythmia and disorders effecting the nervous system
If you try and remove them yourself, make sure you utilise a special tick remover which are readily available and follow the instructions. Do not use normal tweezers which can squeeze the contents of the ticks stomach back into you. Vaseline does not work and don’t try to burn them off, either of these techniques can lead again to the tick ‘vomiting’ its stomach contents back into you.
If in any doubt that you may have been bitten, seek medical attention and remember your buddy buddy checks!
Picture source: http://www.medicinenet.com/lyme_disease/page5.htm