Ticks and Lyme disease
As the days lengthen and we venture outside more, it’s a good time to think about ticks and Lyme disease. Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that can be spread to humans by infected ticks, although being bitten by a tick does not necessarily result in Lyme disease. The most notable symptom is a circular red skin rash around the tick bite. Most rashes appear within the first 4 weeks but can develop up to 3 months after being bitten. In the UK, about a third of cases do not develop a rash. They may instead present with fever, headache or neurological symptoms. The disease can be treated effectively if it’s detected early on. But if it’s not treated or treatment is delayed, there’s a risk you could develop long-lasting symptoms.
Lyme disease is not common in the UK, with an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 new cases each year in England and Wales (as of 2018), but Hampshire is a hotspot for the disease. In 2019, the New Forest was revealed to have the second highest number of cases of Lyme disease in the UK. Infected ticks can be found all over the UK, in woodland and parkland, but also in urban parks and even gardens. Ticks are often associated with deer but these are not the only animals to carry these parasites. Many other species of animals and birds also act as tick hosts: mice, rats and even blackbirds, thrushes, and robins. Watch out for your pets too: the Big Tick Project, run by MSD Animal Health in 2015-2016, found ticks on one in three dogs.
Other tick-borne diseases
Ticks don’t just carry Lyme disease. In July 2020, Public Health England confirmed a case of babesiosis in Devon and a probable case of tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) in Hampshire. Both are rare infections spread by the bite from an infected tick. PHE tested deer blood samples from Hampshire in areas near to where the person with probable TBE lives. These samples have shown evidence of likely TBE virus infection, which matches similar results found in 2019. Dr Katherine Russell, Consultant in the Emerging Infections and Zoonoses team at PHE, said:
It is important to emphasise that cases of babesiosis and TBE in England are rare and the risk of being infected remains very low. Lyme disease remains the most common tick-borne infection in England. Ticks are most active between spring and autumn, so it is sensible to take some precautions to avoid being bitten when enjoying the outdoors. Seek medical advice if you start to feel unwell after a tick bite.”
Enjoy the countryside this spring, but try to remember to be tick aware.