Ticks are something that many walkers have experienced in some way or another.
These irritating pinhead sized critters like nothing more than to have a chomp at any passing creature or hiker.
The larvae and young of ticks can be found across the hills, moorland, woodlands and farmland of Scotland and are more prevalent in areas of long grass, bracken and woodland scrub. While they are present for the majority of the year, they do tend to become more of a problem in the warmer months between mid-May and early October.
Ticks attach themselves to animals such as sheep, deer, cattle and dogs and, if you are unlucky, walkers. They feed by biting through the skin of its victim and slowly sucking its blood and causing irritation as it does so.
Ticks bites can be very annoying but despite the panic surrounding them, they are generally quite harmless with their bites being easily treatable with over the counter insect bite ointment and everyday antihistamine cream to sooth the irritation however there is a small risk of contracting Lyme Disease from an infected tick bite.
A very small percentage of the tick population carry a bacteria called Borrelia Burgdorferi which has been identified as the primary cause of Lyme Disease, a very unpleasant but treatable condition.
Signs of infection can begin to appear a few days (or in some cases several weeks) after being bitten by an infected tick. Commonly the initial symptom is an expanding circular red rash which is very pale in colour around the site of the bite itself. The rash is sometime referred to as looking like a bull’s eye from a dart board.
The disease typically then moves on to present a range of additional symptoms including fever, swollen glands, headache, fatigue, aching muscles and joints and if left untreated the infection will spread to the heart and the nervous system. Fortunately, if treated promptly, most cases of Lyme Disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics.
Removing a tick
Ticks are a nuisance but, provided you know what to do if you are bitten, there is not need to worry about them and you can carry on enjoying walking through Scotland’s wonderful landscape.
The key to preventing problems from occurring is taking action to deal with the critter straight away as an infected tick is unlikely to pass on the infection to the victim in the first few hours of the bite so it is essential that you take steps to remove it as soon as possible.
When a tick bites it begins to burrow its head in below the skin’s surface leaving only their abdomen visible.
To remove the tick gently grip the sides of its abdomen using your fingernails or if possible with a pair of fine tweezers. Pull the tick gently and very slowly upwards making sure you do not crush it while maintaining a constant pressure. Crushing the tick can lead to the parts of its mouth being left in the bite which can later cause infection. The tick will eventually let go and you will then be free to clean up the bite with some antiseptic and then apply insect bite ointment.
Many walkers equip their first aid kits with special tick removal tools which make removing them much easier especially when out in the wilds. These lightweight and slimline tools are fairly inexpensive and worth purchasing if you find yourself walking through the wilds often. Lifesystems provide a full kit for the walker – www.lifesystems.co.uk
Avoiding the problem
The best way to avoid tick bites is to avoid their habitat. Keep to established pathways and avoid walking through long grass, scrub and bracken especially if you know there are animals grazing nearby. If you do have to pass through areas that you think are going to be a tick risk then make sure that your arms and legs are well covered and tuck your trousers into your socks or boots. Wearing light coloured clothing helps make ticks easier to spot and brush off.
Some insect repellents containing DEET help to deter ticks from latching on as you walk past but don’t rely on them as these hardy little insects can cope with quite a lot.
Once you return home make sure that you check yourself over thoroughly paying close attention to high risk areas such as your scalp, ankles, armpits, the back of your legs and your groin area and take action straight away if you spot a tick.
Worried? – Seek medical advice
If you have been bitten by a tick or visited an area in the past month where infected ticks are found and you get flu-like symptoms such as feeling hot and shivery, headaches, aching muscles or feeling sick, or a circular red rash then call your doctor or call NHS 24 on 111 as soon as possible.
Find out more by about the treatment of tick bites by visiting https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/lyme-disease/
If you have any further advice on dealing with ticks and tick bites that you would like to share with the Fife Walking Community, then please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org