The Dracula Bug: Why you should be wary of dangerous ticks
With Lyme Disease on the increase, here's how you can protect yourself this summer.
Is there anything worse than a tick? I'm not sure there is. Parasitic arachnids that lurk in the long grass, watching and waiting to drop from their perch, onto unsuspecting passing mammals and lock onto us with their vicious jaws and engorge themselves with our blood. I feel pretty strongly about ticks.
But for a long time in Ireland, we thought ticks were just a nuisance, albeit a gross one - but not really dangerous. Lyme Disease was something that you caught on holidays in New England not Newtownmountkennedy.
However that's not the case. Increasingly, we're seeing cases of Lyme in Ireland. The figures here are scanty but in the UK numbers have doubled since 2005 with approximately 1,000 cases now reported annually - and that's likely to be much under-reported, as doctors often aren't looking for it.
Lyme Disease or Lyme Borelliosis is a tick-borne disease that initially presents with a flu-like illness sometimes with a classic 'target' type rash - a large patch on the skin with a red border and pale centre. People may experience dizziness, joint pain and fatigue but won't always. If diagnosed and treated with antibiotics at this stage, Lyme generally causes no problems. However, if it's missed or misdiagnosed, it can develop into secondary or tertiary Lyme - a condition that can cause chronic fatigue, malaise and other problems. With our increasing love of hill walking and the great outdoors, it's important that people are aware of the risk of Lyme and take precautions to prevent tick bites or deal with them properly.
Ticks live in grassland, moorland or wooded areas. They're especially common in the west but can be found anywhere. Last year our dog was infested with them after a walk in the Wicklow woods. To avoid being bitten - especially in tick endemic areas; which is probably the whole country - wear long trousers tucked into socks and boots. And wear your shirt tucked in. You should also use an insect repellent containing deet.
As you likely won't feel a tick bite, do a tick check on yourself and your pet when you get home from your excursion. They like to lurk in arm pits or skin creases, like the back of your knee. Also check your clothes as they can hang on to them and may bite you several days after you were out.
If you find a foul tick; they're round bulbous creatures varying in colour from browny/black or pinkish, to bluey/grey - quite like a small berry with a mouth piece and legs at one end. It should be removed as quickly as possible to reduce risk of infection. There are many inventive ways to do this but the most effective is to put a fine tweezers around the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull up with constant pressure, avoiding twisting. This prevents squeezing its fat little body and squirting the possible infectious contents of the tick into the victim. You may leave some of the mouth part behind but that's not important.
Then you wait. If nothing happens likely you have been bitten by a non-infectious tick. But if you become unwell at all you should seek medical advice straight away.
Hill-walking clubs around Ireland are now warning their members of the dangers of tick bites but ordinary Joes hoping to enjoy the Irish summer also need to be aware of the potential of tick bites to cause problems. It's normal procedure for Americans to do tick checks on themselves and their kids after a walk in the woods and looks like we need to start doing it too. My arachnophobia has gone into overdrive.