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NHS HIGHLAND: Beware the tick – take precautions to avoid getting bitten

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The most important thing is to be aware – we want people to be able to enjoy the outdoors, says Dr Sally Mavin.
The most important thing is to be aware – we want people to be able to enjoy the outdoors, says Dr Sally Mavin.

With the better weather starting to make an appearance many of us will be dusting off walking boots and heading out for our 10,000 steps. Hopefully, we will also be taking precautions against ticks.

Ticks are small, spider-like creatures that can be found anywhere there is wildlife but usually woodland and moorland areas.

They can be found across the UK but there are a high number of ticks in the Highlands. They are particularly common between March and October.

Ticks climb on to animals or humans as they brush past them. Their bites are not painful but, if not removed, they will feed for several days before dropping off.

The most common disease they can transmit to humans is Lyme disease. It’s thought only a small proportion of ticks carry the bacteria that cause Lyme disease so being bitten doesn’t mean you’ll definitely be infected. We want people to enjoy the outdoors but it’s also important to be aware of the risk and to know what to look for.

Prevention is the best method to avoid ticks. We would recommend that you cover up as much skin as you can, making it more difficult for them to bite you. Wear long trousers tucked in to your socks and wear long sleeves.

Light coloured clothes may also help you to see ticks more easily. Check your clothing for ticks regularly, and brush off any that you do find.

You can also use an insect repellent containing the ingredient DEET to deter them.

Check yourself for ticks and remember to check any younger members of your group. Ticks can bite anywhere on the body, often in hidden places such as skin folds in adults and the head, neck and behind the ears in children.

It is also possible to have several ticks at once on different parts of your body.

If you have been bitten by a tick, you need to remove it as soon as possible. The best way to do this is with a tick removal device, which are available in many outdoor shops or pharmacies, or by using fine-tipped tweezers. Try not to squeeze the body when removing it and, while it is attached, do not cover the tick in oils or lotions, and don’t try to burn it.

After you have removed the tick, clean the area with an antiseptic wipe or wash with soap and water.

Keep an eye on where you have been bitten. There is no need to speak to your GP if you have no symptoms but, if you develop a rash or experience flu-like symptoms after being bitten, please speak to your GP.

The most important thing is to be aware – we want people to be able to enjoy the outdoors but it is important to be aware of the risk and speak to your GP if you start to feel unwell.

For those with an interest in tick-borne diseases, NHS Highland are hosting a special public event on June 1 at the Centre for Health Sciences, Raigmore Hospital, Inverness from 1.30pm-5pm. A range of international experts will discuss recent work that has been carried out on tick-borne diseases as part of the NorthTick project and what this work means for Scotland. For further details and to register for the event, please email nhsh.rdi-innovation@nhs.scot

Dr Sally Mavin is the director at the Scottish Microbiology Reference Laboratory (SMiRL) at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.

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