A Highlands group, led by a local GP, is calling for greater awareness of ticks and Lyme disease
Lochaber doctor James Douglas believes more can be done to inform outdoors fans and workers of the potential danger of Scotlandâ€™s ticks.
But Lochaber Tick Talks is not about scaremongering, rather itâ€™s a campaign that hopes to educate more people about how to enjoy Scotlandâ€™s great outdoors without becoming ill.
Dr Douglas says: â€œTicks in Scotland can be a menace and they do have the potential to make human hosts ill because some carry Lyme disease.
â€œI have seen more patients presenting themselves with tick bites in recent years â€“ and in 2014, there have been cases much earlier in the year.Â Our group does not believe that there is enough awareness and education about ticks and the potential for Lyme disease.
â€œWe want to do more to provide better education and awareness about infected ticks.Â We donâ€™t want to put people off enjoying the great outdoors but we want them to have fun in safety.â€
More about ticks
Itâ€™s the Ixodes ricinus tick that is of concern because this is the arachnid that carries the bacterial infection Lyme borreliosis (Lyme disease).
During the life cycle of this tick it requires a blood host to feast on, including large mammals such as sheep, cattle, dogs, deer, horse â€“ and humans.
There is both anecdotal and factual evidence that reveals a growing number of ticks in Scotland (and wider Europe).
One of the main reasons for larger tick populations is the growth and widening distribution of deer herds.
Increasing areas of woodlands and larger natural habitats with grasslands and moorlands, as favoured by ticks, have also seen tick numbers increase.
Reports from walkers and workers suggest greater numbers of ticks, although this is not based on formal research.
Medical records show that the numbers of â€œseriousâ€ cases of Lyme disease have grown.
However, records do not keep track of the number of people infected and then treated for Lyme disease in the early stages.
Caroline Millins, a qualified vet and PhD student at Glasgow University, is researching the effect of vertebrate host communities on Lyme Disease risk in Scotland.
She says: â€œThere is a great deal of anecdotal evidence and now an increasing amount of scientific evidence that points to a rise in the numbers of ticks in Scotland, and a wider distribution of these ticks.
â€œIt might also surprise people to know that ticks are not just a summer occurrence. If temperatures in spring and winter rise to 7C, ticks will be in evidence.Â In addition, more people are now going out and enjoying the countryside so it correlates that there will be a higher chance of more people being bitten by ticks.â€
Do all ticks carry Lyme disease?
Not all ticks carry the bacterial agent that can cause Lyme disease in humans. It is only the Ixodes ricinus tick that is of potential danger and the agent is carried only by between 1% and 10% of these ticks.
Tick awareness campaigns
Itâ€™s probably almost impossible to avoid tick-infested areas in Scotland if you enjoy walking, climbing, mountain biking and many other outdoor pursuits.
The key is to know what to do if you find a tick on your skin.Â Dr Douglas says: â€œLochaber Tick Talks is focused on better education about ticks in our countryside. We think there are still many people who do not know enough about ticks.
â€œWe want to raise awareness among the general public and also offer more information to people who work in the outdoors, such as foresters and outdoor pursuits instructors.
â€œWe also think there needs to be a greater awareness of ticks and the potential for Lyme disease among doctors, especially those outwith tick prevalent areas.Â Many people now come to Scotland for holidays but then they will be returning home and could potentially present themselves at a local GP surgery in, say, London, with a tick or symptoms of Lyme disease.â€
Lochaber Tick Talks is a small campaign group that hopes to spread information about ticks.
Dr Douglas says: â€œWe do not have funding or a big campaign agenda at the moment, we simply want to spread the word from a grassroots level about ticks.Â We are not even saying that ticks are more of a problem in Lochaber than elsewhere in the UK.
â€œWe just want to add our voice to those already talking about ticks in the countryside and to bring about greater awareness for all people who enjoy the great outdoors.Â In fact, if there is anyone who would like to join our group or add insight and education, please do get in touch with us.â€
Tick prevention and action
The best way to prevent your risk of being infected with Lyme disease is to avoid being bitten by ticks.Â When you are in grassy or woodland areas follow this precautionary advice:
- Wear a long-sleeved shirt
- Tuck trousers into socks
- Use insect repellent
- Check yourself for ticks
- Check your children and pets for ticks
If you see a tick on your skin you need to remove it as soon as possible. Ticks prefer warm and moist places such as behind the knees and the groin area so check your body carefully and fully.
Itâ€™s important that you remove ticks with a special tick removal device. Do not try to burn a tick out or use tweezers.
Another aspect of the Lochaber Tick Talks initiative is to increase the number of places that stock tick removal devices.
Symptoms of Lyme disease
Go immediately to your doctor if you see a pink or red circular rash developing around the area of a bite. This can happen three to 30 days after being bitten.
The rash is often described as looking like a bullâ€™s-eye on a dartboard.Â You may also experience flu-like symptoms such as tiredness,Â headaches and muscle or joint pain.Â The bacteria can be effectively treated with antibiotics if detected early enough.
If Lyme disease is left untreated, further symptoms may develop months or even years later. Untreated Lyme disease can be extremely debilitating. Symptoms may develop months or even years later and can include muscle and joint pain, joint swelling and neurological problems, such as temporary paralysis of the facial muscles.
Lyme disease in its late stages can trigger symptoms similar to those of fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome.
Be tick aware this summer in Scotlandâ€™s great outdoors.