Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that can be caught from infected ticks of the Ixodes genus. Usually found in woodland, heathland, rough grasslands and beaches, ticks feed on the blood of birds and mammals, including sheep & humans.
Only about 10% of all ticks carry the disease so the risks of infection are low. However, the early signs of having caught Lyme disease are an expanding area of redness, fever, headaches and a feeling of lethargy. If not treated immediately there is the risk of developing severe and long-lasting complications.
So how can you prevent being bitten by ticks?
Well the simple answer would be to avoid the areas where the ticks are prevalent. However, this would prohibit most of us from going outside at all. As this somewhat defeats the objective - this is my simple 5-point guide to avoid contracting Lyme Disease:
Wear long-sleeved shirts and make sure they are tucked into your long trousers. Wear long socks and if possible gaiters. Make sure that your clothing is light coloured, so the ticks stand out more.
After you return from a trip or have washed your clothing, make sure you dry it in a tumble dryer – the heat will help to kill off any hidden ticks!
Treat your clothing with permethrin, this will kill any ticks that land on your clothes. Permethrin will usually last a few washes but read the instructions and do not apply directly to the skin. For the skin use an insect repellent that contains 20-30% DEET.
Personally, I use one of the many 100% DEET products available on the market. Remember DEET is a strong chemical and should be kept away from children and pets.
To avoid direct contact with ticks try to stick to the middle of footpaths and trails. Try to avoid walking through long grass or wooded undergrowth.
Be particularly vigilant if you are walking through a field that contains, or has recently contained, sheep.
Periodically, on a long walk, and on completion thoroughly check yourself and your children for ticks. Key areas to check include the groin, armpits and the scalp. Once you have checked your body for ticks make sure your clothes have been checked.
Regularly check your pets for ticks as well. Remember check, check, check.
If you find a tick embedded in the skin remove it immediately. However, do not tug at it or swipe it away as this will risk removing the body and leaving the head behind.
Use either a pair of pointed tweezers or one of the many specialist tick removal tools available on the market.