Did you know that some ticks carry infections that can make you sick? Are you aware that you, your family and pets can all be at risk. In this article, Jenny O’Dea, from Tick Talk Ireland explains how you can take steps to protect your child from the dangers of ticks.
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What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme Disease is a serious infection caused by the bite of an infected tick. The tick most likely to carry the infection is the hard-bodied tick which can hitch a ride on mice, hedgehogs, squirrels, ground-feeding birds, sheep, horses, cattle as well as family pets. Sadly, humans including children can become accidental hosts to the tick!
Ticks are in the family of arachnids, closely related to spiders & mites. Ingeniously, the tick is able to detect carbon dioxide & heat from the approaching host & holds its front legs open in a ‘questing’ position. The little hooks on the end of the legs enable it to grasp onto fur or clothing, whereby the tick will begin to search the body for a nice cosy place to rest & feed.
Once the tick has found a spot to feed it will begin to cut into the skin & inject an anesthetic so the host will be unable to feel the bite.
A cement type material is injected under the skin, allowing the tick to remain firmly attached to the host where it may rest & feed for several days.
The longer the tick is allowed to feed, the higher the risk of a Lyme infection being passed on. It is for this reason that we advise all parents to be vigilant & remove any ticks before they become embedded into the human skin.
The tick is very, very small ranging from larvae being the size of a full-stop, to an adult being the size of a sesame seed.
Photo above shows ‘questing ticks’ in Killarney National Park by Dr Eoin Healy, Univ College Cork
How do I know if Lyme has been transmitted?
The very early signs of Lyme disease may be an expanding rash that begins to resemble a bulls-eye target (a red ring with a central clearing). This rash often appears several days to weeks after the initial bite.
If some redness occurs within a day of the bite this may be due to minor irritation, however a rash appearing several days later is a cause of concern. Flu-type symptoms such as headaches, fever, chills & muscle aches may also be an early sign of infection.
It is important at this stage that treatment is given before waiting for blood tests as the blood test is unable to pick up antibodies for several weeks after the bite.
Photo shows a bulls-eye rash courtesy of Centre for Disease Control, America
Not all sufferers will experience a rash or indeed notice it (as ticks often tuck themselves in hard to reach places such as back of the knee, behind the ear). Often the Lyme rash does not itch so it can be easy to miss.
Where are the particular hotspots in Ireland?
Studies in the 90’s cited Counties Kerry, Wicklow & Galway as particular hotspots. A study in 2010 identified Connemara as being very endemic for Lyme disease (151 cases per 100,000). In comparison, the Highlands of Scotland (another endemic area) have an average of 81/100,000 in peak season. A study in Killarney National Park, Co. Kerry by Prof Gray cited tick infection rates ranging from 11-29%.
Vigilance is needed in other counties too, as cases have been known in Kilkenny, Kildare, Cork & Mayo among others.
Who are most at risk?
Anyone using the great outdoors where tall grasses & heath land are abundant, as well as in forested areas are most at risk. Examples of high risk pursuits include rambling, camping, fishing, hunting & farming. Children & pets may need to be checked often, due to their tendency to explore in grassy areas.
What is the best way to protect my family & pets?
Being aware provides a much greater chance of minimizing the risks. Some simple tips include:
- Use DEET as a tick deterrent (this will not kill the tick so tick checks are always advised as a precaution). Also ensure your pets are treated with flea & tick repellant regularly.
- Stick to footpaths in forests & parkland, as tall grasses may be where ticks are hiding.
- Check yourself, family & pets on return from trips out in the country. Remember to check in tucked away places such as under the arms, back of the knee, in the groin area, nape of the neck & behind the ears.
- Ticks may be low on the ground & crawl up trouser legs. Tucking trousers into socks while out hiking can help prevent the ticks getting onto the skin.
- Wear light clothing so that ticks can be spotted easily. Check yourself before returning to the car for any loose ticks on outer clothing. Do a tick check underneath clothes as soon as you are able!
I found a tick on me, now what do I do?
- DO: remove the tick gently with fine tipped tweezers or a tick twister ensuring you keep the twister/tweezers as close to the skin as possible. This helps to remove the mouth parts as well as the body.
- DO: use an antiseptic wipe in the bite area to prevent secondary infection from germs.
- DO: place the tick in a Ziploc bag & record the date it was removed. Look out vigilantly for symptoms including an expanding rash or summertime flu. Remember that the rash may take weeks to develop, so keep checking over the course of several weeks.
- DON’T: squeeze the body of the tick or use fingernails as the tick may burst causing more risk of infection.
- DON’T: use flames, methylated spirits or Vaseline on the tick. This causes great discomfort & may cause the tick to regurgitate its stomach contents, where all the Lyme bacteria may be hiding.
- It’s important that you undertake correct tick removal.
- Tick twisters are available at: www.ticktalkireland.org
Is there a way to control ticks from infesting the garden?
- Keep lawns short. Ticks prefer moist, dense vegetation to stop them from dehydrating.
- Choose plants that are not attractive as forage for larger hosts such as roe deer.
- Remove undergrowth & leaf litter. Store wood piles away from the house.
Spray tick repellants in a zone around the edge of the garden, where ticks, or animals with ticks may enter (take care as cats are sensitive to some types of sprays, be sure to read the bottle). The best time to spray is May & September. A natural alternative you can use is a home-made garlic spray which may help to deter ticks & mosquitoes.
Some fun ways for you & your children to learn about ticks!
- Don’t Let the Ticks Bite! – Kids may be more likely to encounter ticks and get tick-bites because they may go off trails, play in grassy areas or in leaves under trees in natural habitats where ticks are found. They may also be less likely to notice a tick if one attaches to them. The tick-bite prevention information on this page is designed for youth in the 4th – 6th grade and can be used in the classroom, scout groups, other youth groups, or at home. P.S. check out the ‘don’t let the ticks bite’ sideshow – it’s very good!
- www.tickencounter.org – There are lots of interactive games for kids on this website
- Terrible Ticks & Dastardly Diseases by BADA (UK charity)
It’s a Jungle out there! Video with David Bellamy by Bayer Healthcare:
Books & Leaflets
‘The Adventures of Luna and Dips (tick)’ is available for Kindle from Amazon.co.uk and helps to warn parents, teachers and children about ticks, the carriers of Lyme Disease.
Follow Luna from her birth as a young larva, as she finds her way through the trials and tribulations of growing up. She learns many things from her friend Dips, but has to undertake her quest alone. She yearns to be grown up and look just like Fantaz, a nymphal tick who gives her more advice, but will Luna grow up to be the tick she desires? Luna is suited to ages 8+.
- Jack, Scruffy & The Ticks by BADA-UK
- Leaflet & Factsheet by HSE Ireland
- Lyme in Ireland Leaflet by Tick Talk Ireland
Have you had a tick experience that you’d like to share in the comments below?