July 2, 2020

2020, a year of tick bites?

This year is shaping up to be average in terms of tick bite numbers, but we could see the rate of infection skyrocket. This is due to Coronavirus, the good weather and walks in the woods have been very popular during lockdown.   

This statistic could go on all summer if people go on holiday closer to home.  However, even if you are not travelling to distant continents you need to learn how to protect yourself and recognise the signs of Lyme disease.

High season for ticks infections

For ticks, it is the peak session and the most intense period of activity for ticks is from the end of spring to the beginning of summer.

A cousin of the flea, this charming little arthropod feeds exclusively on the blood of terrestrial vertebrates. In other words, we are on their menu along with our dogs and cats.

A tick bite is not dangerous in itself, What’s more dangerous is the diseases that ticks can carry – Lyme disease is the most common infection that is spread by ticks.

How can you recognise Lyme disease?

When a tick bites and if it is a carrier, it passes on the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

This disease is very difficult to diagnose, because it manifests itself very differently from one individual to another. At the peak of the disease, the symptoms may be mild to extremely serious:

  • Skin rashes
  • Flu-like symptoms (fever, shivers and stiffness)
  • Headaches
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Joint pain
  • Chromic arthritis
  • Cardiac arrhythmia
  • Nervous system disorders, including facial palsy

All these symptoms and their random nature mean it is often confused with other diseases.

Having said that, the first clinical sign of infection and the most easily recognisable, is around the bite. If you notice a rash expanding in concentric rings (erythema migrans), there is a large probability that you are infected.

In any event, it is highly recommended to see a doctor as quickly as possible, as soon as there is a suspected infection. If the disease is not treated, it can move onto the advanced stage and leave chronic damage.

Where do ticks live and how you protect yourself from it?

Depending on their stage of maturity (there are three), ticks exist from low level grasses to as high as leaves in the tree tops. We therefore have five tips for your walks in the wood:

  • Avoid uncleared areas or those overgrown by vegetation
  • Stay on marked paths
  • Wear high shoes and covering clothing
  • Light-coloured clothing is practical, because it makes them easier to spot
  • Use skin repellents or those applied to clothing (PMD is a natural compound, DEET is chemical, but has few side effects)*

After hiking inspecting your body is an absolute must. Check the body’s sweatiest parts: the skin folds of joints, the navel, the genitals, the ears and the scalp.

* Pesticides and repellents must be used with caution. Check with your paediatrician before using these products on your children.

And if you’re bitten?

If a tick has managed to embed itself into you, removing it with a tool is the most effective. The bacteria that causes Lyme disease is not transmitted immediately, and this may take up to 48 hours. Removing ticks in time may save you from all the symptoms listed above.

The most commonly used utensil is the hook, available in all chemists in high season, in a number of supermarkets too. If used correctly, tweezers may also be appropriate.

To remove the tick, you must be gentle and not try to tear it out. Grasp it as close to your skin as possible and pull slowly to extract it without crushing or breaking it.

It doesn’t matter if a piece of its rostrum remains, your skin will get rid of it in just a few days. Don’t try to get it out at any cost, you may increase the risk of infection.

The final step is the most important: check the bite spot for a month, and look for any erythema migrans. If it appears, contact your doctor immediately.

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