The outdoors can be fun and healthy
But tick bites can cause health risks
Love spending time outdoors? Activities like camping, hiking, golfing, and gardening? You could be at risk of contacting Lyme disease. Lyme disease is a serious illness which can be spread to humans from the bite of an infected tick. Each year, more cases of Lyme disease are being diagnosed in the United Kingdom, as infected ticks are known to exist in many regions across the country.
While there are many species of ticks, the predominant causative agent of Lyme disease in the United Kingdom is the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. This bacteria is found in all ticks species. However the Sheep tick, Ixodes ricinus, is the most infamous specie in the United Kingdom. Prevention is your first line of defence against being infected by the Borrelia bacteria, as there are many steps you can take to prevent a tick bite. However, if you are bitten, you can now easily, quickly and reliably test the tick for the presence of this and two other Lyme disease-causing Borrelia bacteria. Not all ticks are infected with the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. However, in recent years the number of endemic areas in the United Kingdom has been increasing.
The sheep tick
The Borrelia bacteria is found in the Sheep tick specie among others. Sheep ticks are quite common in the United Kingdom. This particular tick belongs to the family of ‘hard ticks’, which have a hard exoskeleton and go through three stages of life: larva, nymph, and adult. The nymphs are often no larger than the head of a pin. A tick recognizes its host by vibrations and temperature. They do not have teeth. They attach themselves to humans by embedding their mouth into the skin. Ticks burrow their head under the skin, where they can remain for up to 72 hours to suck blood as nutrition in order to survive.
Geographic areas where ticks are known to be active
The number of endemic areas in the United Kingdom have been expanding. Sheep ticks are most often found in:
- the New Forest
- the South Downs
- Thetford Forest
- the North Yorkshire Moors
- the Lake District
- the Scottish Highlands
Key targets of the tick
Ticks live off of the blood of humans and animals; usually small rodents, pets, deer, sheep, and birds. Children, rural outdoor workers, outdoor sport, activity and travel enthusiasts can be the key target hosts of a tick. Hence, they risk being bitten.
Health risks of a tick bite
A tick can be the cause of a range of moderate to severe health issues in humans. Because as it sucks blood, a tick can transfer viruses, bacteria, parasites, and even poison to their human host.
Impact of Lyme disease on human health
Initial symptoms differ from person to person, this makes Lyme disease very difficult to diagnose. Some people with Lyme disease may have no symptoms at all.
- There are three phases to Lyme disease:
In the first phase, a red ring-shaped rash (called Erythema migrans) appears (in 35-50% of cases) within three weeks at the site of the bite. This rash slowly expands, then fades in the middle and finally disappears.
- During the second phase, flu-like symptoms appear: headache, exhaustion, pain in the arms and legs. These symptoms are self-limiting and will disappear on their own.
- During the last phase, often months after the bite, more serious and chronic symptoms will occur: joint pain, cardiac arrhythmia and nervous system disorders.