Ticks are oval, flat arachnids – related to spiders, mites and scorpions. They are tiny and therefore not easy to spot – an unfed tick is approximately 2.5mm-3mm (The nymphs are even smaller: most under a single millimetre!) when they've fed, they engorge with blood and swell up like a balloon to up to 11mm. Their colour range from reddish brown to black.
They are found in woodland, heathland, moorland, forests and parks – anywhere with long grass and shrubbery they climb up in order to brush onto hosts (people and animals). When ticks bite it is usually painless and goes unnoticed – people usually only see the tick on their skin. If undisturbed, a tick can feed for up to 5-6 days before letting go and dropping off.
The risk of transmission of Lyme disease increases the longer the tick is attached, but the disease can be transmitted in less than 24 hours, especially if it is removed inappropriately with tweezers. (Their fluids can end up being injected into the blood stream; seek immediate medical attention if this happens.)
(Ticks are tiny and 'cling on' to you once they bite you. They then suck blood and become swollen or rather engorged with blood which they then digest. The bacteria are normally carried in their gut, and only travel up to their mouth and into your skin once fed and are engorged. This normally takes at least 24 hours, although can be less if the tick has already partially fed.) Therefore, if you remove a tick soon after being bitten - within a day - you are much less likely to develop Lyme disease, even if it was an infected tick.
It is estimated that in the UK around 17% of ticks are infected with Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria which causes Lyme Disease.
There are around 3,000 new cases of Lyme disease in England and Wales each year, though around 20% of these reported cases are caught while abroad in other European countries.Dr Ian Burgess estimates there are closer to 12,000 people who have contracted Lyme Disease in the UK.
In the USA, there are around 30,000 cases each year. Lyme disease cases have been reported in nearly every state across the USA but 95% of these cases have come from 14 states (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.)
You can contract Lyme disease through the bite of an infected tick.
Stage one Lyme disease:
Look out for a distinctive circular ‘bull’s eye’ rash at the site of the tick bite any time up to a month after being bitten. This rash is called erythema migrans.
While this rash usually fades within a month, this doesn’t mean the infection has cleared from the body. Also 1 in 3 people with Lyme disease don’t develop this rash.
Flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, muscle pain, stiffness and joint pain, headaches and a high temperature or chills can signal Lyme disease.
Stage two Lyme disease:
Weeks or months after the tick bite, the infection can spread. This can cause pain and swelling in the joints – most commonly affecting the knee joints. These episodes can last for three months.
Stage three/chronic Lyme disease:
If left untreated more serious symptoms can develop and persist.
Numbness or pain, paralysis of muscles, memory and concentration problems. Heart burn, dizziness and chest pain. Severe headaches, stiff necks and increased sensitivity to light. Some people develop long-term symptoms similar to fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome. This is known as post-infectious Lyme disease.
If you know you have been bitten by a tick and experience any of these symptoms you should see your GP.
There is no vaccine to prevent Lyme disease! Therefore the only way to prevent Lyme disease is to not get bitten by ticks…
How to reduce the risk of being bitten by ticks:
After returning from a tick-infested area: