Dr's Casebook: Protect yourself against ticks and Lyme disease

​​As I mentioned last week I recently came back from a long distance walking holiday round the Fife Coastal Path in Scotland. I was surprised to see many noticeboards when entering woodlands warning about ticks and Lyme disease.
Keep to footpaths and avoid long grass when out walking. Photo: AdobeStockKeep to footpaths and avoid long grass when out walking. Photo: AdobeStock
Keep to footpaths and avoid long grass when out walking. Photo: AdobeStock

Dr Keith Souter writes: On these walks I almost invariably wear long walking trousers, because past experience has taught me that many paths are overgrown and nettle stings and thorn scratches can be the irritating result. The first few days of the walk were in scorching sun and I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt. To my great surprise one evening I suddenly felt a slight itch on my arm and when I scratched it I felt a tiny hard lump. On inspection it was a dreaded tick.

Ticks don’t immediately make themselves apparent. You can have one on your body for many hours or even days before it is obvious. When it has had a good feed on your blood it turns black and then you see and can feel it as a small black lump, the size of a grain of salt. It is important to then get it out, but you have to make sure that you get the whole of it out, using fine forces or tweezers. Make sure that you don’t crush it before you have removed it.

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Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that can be spread to humans by infected ticks. The warning sign is a circular or oval shape rash around a tick bite that is often described as being like a bull’s eye. The rash can appear anything up to three months after being bitten by an infected tick, but usually appears within one to four weeks. Antibiotics will clear it up.

Recent research from Bristol University, just published in Current Biology has demonstrated that ticks can actually be attracted to the skin across several centimetres by static electricity. Unlike fleas they can’t jump and so the static electric charge that is produced by walking through long grass or undergrowth is enough to actually attract them to your exposed skin. This is potentially very important, since it could lead to the development of anti-static sprays to protect you when outdoors in areas where ticks and other disease carrying insects may be active.

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