What is Lyme disease? How do you get Lyme disease? How can you avoid tick bites?
The Scottish Highlands and Islands have a high tick population so it’s important to take precautions against getting bitten by ticks so you don’t contract Lyme disease which can lead to serious long-term health problems.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease (also known as Lyme borreliosis) is a bacterial infection spread to humans by infected ticks. It can often be treated if it’s diagnosed early but if it’s not treated in time, you could develop severe and long-lasting symptoms including:
- problems with your heart
- nervous system
- pain and swelling in your joints
How do you get Lyme disease?
A tick which is infected with Lyme disease can transfer the bacteria that cause Lyme disease to a human by biting them. Tick bites don’t hurt which is why it is difficult to know when you’ve been bitten. The tick embeds itself into your skin to feed on your blood.
How to avoid tick bites on humans to prevent catching Lyme disease
You need to reduce the risk of being bitten by ticks in areas where ticks may be found so try these suggestions:
Wear long trousers and long-sleeved tops
Keep exposed skin to a minimum and wear clothes which cover your body. Long-sleeved shirts are another barrier to ticks and you could also wear a top or vest underneath your shirt and tuck that into your trousers for extra protection.
Tuck trousers into your socks
Forget being stylish when you’re out in an area which may contain ticks and tuck your trousers into your socks. I hardly see anyone doing this but it’s such a great way to stop ticks getting easy access to your skin. When I wear waterproof trousers whilst out walking, I still tuck my trousers into my socks. Waterproof trousers and gaiters add another obstacle to a tick trying to get to your skin. I’m happy to look like an idiot if it means I don’t catch this horrible illness.
Make it easier to spot a tick on your clothes by wearing light-coloured fabrics.
Keep to the footpaths
By keeping to the footpaths when out walking you avoid the long vegetation, grass and bracken where ticks may be waiting for their next meal to walk past. Ticks attach themselves to their victims when you brush past them. Although my friend got bitten by an infected tick which was in fairly short grass in a garden on the Uists in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland so you need to be careful in other locations too, including parks in urban areas.
Use insect repellent on exposed skin
You can use insect repellents containing the active ingredients DEET and Picaridine which Lyme Disease Action say are effective against ticks. If you’re concerned about the possible issues with DEET regarding your health and environmental effects, there are also some natural alternatives.
DEET is widely available and is thought to be safe for most people, but has been associated with adverse reactions in sensitive individuals. It can also damage synthetic clothing if applied to the fabric and melt some plastics. Products containing DEET include Jungle Formula, Autan and Pyramid.
According to Lyme Disease Action, Picaridine (also known as Saltidin or Icaridin) has a slightly lower toxicity and does not damage synthetic fabrics but some studies have shown it to be less effective against ticks.
Smidge That Midge insect repellent
A safe and more eco-friendly alternative to DEET is Smidge That Midge which is a Saltidin formulation and repels ticks. I’ve used it against midges and found it to be effective plus it has a pleasant fragrance. Buy from Amazon £7.00.
Natural insect repellents containing Citrepel
Incognito – Less Mosquito 100% natural insect spray protection
Incognito is 100% natural and contains Citrepel. Incognito say that it’s stronger than any DEET-based to product and clinically proven to protect against Malaria. It’s DEET-free so you avoid that horrible choking smell you get with DEET products. It can be sprayed on clothing and skin. I’m going to get some of this for my next trip to Scotland as I like that it’s safe to be used on clothing too. It’s not been tested on animals and is Vegan Society registered. It also comes in a roll-on which Incognito recommend if you have asthma or other respiratory problems. For all-over protection they also offer a loofah soap, hair and body wash and more. Buy from Big Green Smile, Amazon.
Lifesystems Nat Kids 30+ Plus Spray
This is formulated from a blend of natural plant oils derived from the Lemon Eucalyptus plant. The active ingredient Citrepel®75 is proven to repel midges, ticks, horseflies, mosquitoes, sandflies and gnats.
Check your clothing and gear before going inside
Brush over clothing to dislodge loose ticks and carefully inspect your rucksack and other gear before going indoors. You don’t want ticks crawling around inside your house as they could attach themselves to you later on.
Inspect yourself carefully
- The tick that usually bites humans can be as small as a poppy seed.
- Check skin carefully all over for ticks and get someone to help you, if possible, or use a mirror.
- Pay attention to folds in the skin and other areas where a tick could hide, especially armpits, waistband, behind the knee and the groin area.
- Inspect the head (including scalp) and neck.
- Even better get someone else to check you for ticks and then return the favour.
Bathe or shower ASAP
Take a bath or shower and wash your hair as soon as possible after coming indoors (ideally within two hours) to wash off any unattached ticks. I suggest scrubbing yourself all over with a flannel as it will help dislodge any ticks.
Examine your pets to ensure they don’t bring ticks into your home in their fur.
Where can you get Lyme disease?
Ticks that carry the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease are found throughout the UK including the Scottish Highlands and Islands, other parts of Europe and North America. Not all ticks carry the bacteria.
Symptoms of Lyme disease
Lyme disease rash
Many people with early-stage Lyme disease develop a circular bull’s-eye rash at the site of the tick bite, usually around 3 to 30 days after being bitten. Not every person with Lyme Disease will develop the bull’s-eye rash.
- Size can vary
- Could also expand over several days or weeks
- Typically approx. 15cm (6 inches) across, but it can be much larger or smaller
- Some people may develop several rashes in different parts of their body
Other symptoms of Lyme disease
Some people with Lyme disease also experience flu-like symptoms in the early stages, such as
- tiredness (fatigue)
- muscle pain
- joint pain
- high temperature (fever)
- neck stiffness
There are many symptoms of Lyme disease and I suggest you look at the Lyme Disease Action website for a comprehensive list .
How to remove a tick
If you get bitten by a tick, you need to remove it ASAP so read how to remove a tick from a human, dog or cat. I strongly recommend a specialised tick remover (not tweezers which can cause a tick to empty its stomach contents including bacteria into your bite wound) as they’re so cheap and simple to use. You can support the charity, Lyme Disease Action, by buying these and insect repellent through their shop or they’re also available from Amazon.
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