Ticks: A creepy crawly with a big bite!
There’s nothing better for children than getting outdoors. It promotes both physical and mental wellbeing and creates a fantastic environment for education. But there’s a creature in the undergrowth which, despite its tiny size, can deliver a big bite.
By Wendy Fox, Chair of tick-borne disease awareness charity, BADA-UK
Ticks are blood-sucking parasites that can transmit nasty infections. They wait on plants and low branches, climbing on to an animal or person as they pass by. Ticks attach to the skin with barbed mouth parts, and numbing saliva helps them feed un-noticed until fat with blood. This process can take several days before they drop off to the ground.
Lyme disease (Borreliosis) is a bacterial infection which can lead to serious complications including damage to the nervous system, joints and heart. Each year approximately 3,000 tick bites in the UK* result in Lyme disease. New research also suggests that the prevalence of Lyme disease bacteria in UK ticks is considerably higher than previously thought.
Due to a number of factors, including changes in the climate, tick numbers are on the increase. You’re likely to come across them in woodland, forests, moorland, heathland and well-planted urban areas where wildlife (such as birds, hedgehogs, foxes and squirrels) is present. A simple family picnic in the park may expose you to tick bites.
Only a proportion of ticks carry infection but it is sensible to take simple precautions against tick bites. Awareness is important as there are no vaccines to defend against UK tick-borne diseases.
Insect repellents can help to deter ticks and certain brands are safe for use on young children. Tucking trousers into socks and choosing clothing with elasticated waistbands and cuffs can help to limit ticks getting access to the skin. Checking yourself, your children and your pets regularly can also help to detect ticks before they have had a chance to attach to the skin, or soon after.
Disease-causing organisms are introduced from the tick’s saliva. The longer a tick is allowed to feed, the higher the risk is of infection. Safe removal of ticks can be performed with fine-nosed tweezers or a tick-removal tool.
Applying solutions (such as spirits, petroleum jelly or nail polish), or burning, heating or freezing ticks, may cause back-flow of infective fluids. Using fingers is also not recommended.Keeping pets treated against ticks protects them but also helps prevent ticks being brought into the home. If a tick bite occurs, be vigilant for signs of a rash or flu-like symptoms within the following weeks. Photograph any rash as it can aid diagnosis even after it has faded or resolved. For more information on signs and symptoms please visit www.bada-uk.org
Tick-borne disease charity, BADA-UK (Borreliosis & Associated Diseases Awareness UK), provides information on effective tick-bite prevention and safe tick-removal techniques. Supported by Mosi-guard Natural™, the charity organises Tick Bite Prevention Week every spring and the family- orientated website is accessible throughout the year. Download video presentations, activity sheets and top tips from BADA-UK Patron, Bushcraft and Survival expert Ray Mears. Additionally, schools may order FREE a charming book which teaches young children about ticks in a fun and engaging way. www.tickbitepreventionweek.org
Prevent tick bites
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*Health Protection Agency 2011