We have had an amazing amount of sunshine these last couple of weeks but it is not only us enjoying the mild weather. Lurking in the grass is a wicked fiend just waiting to crawl onto you when you least expect it, only to bury its head into your flesh and feed on your blood. This mini-vampire is, of course, the tick. Obviously, there is nothing really wicked about it, the tick just does what it has evolved to do, and it does it very well indeed. But while I endeavour to appreciate all creatures, the tick is probably at the very lowest point of my nature love scale.
Ticks can be mainly found in woodlands and areas of long grass, e.g. commons, but can also be present in parks or even gardens, so it is important that you check yourself and your children regularly for them, especially when coming back from walks or playtime in any of these places. They feed on blood – mainly on animals but they won’t say no to a human either given half the chance – attaching themselves for several days until they have eaten enough and fall off.
You will not feel it when you have been bitten which is why it is essential to make a visual check. Ticks are especially drawn to areas like the groin and behind the knees as well as the hairline in children (I speak from experience here that I would rather not want to repeat), but can be literally anywhere on the body as they crawl to find a spot they like. Some people are amazed how small they can be – really quite tiny and thus easily overlooked. Here is a good graphic showing sizes for the different life stages.
The problem really starts if the tick that has bitten you has previously fed on an animal carrying a disease, which it can then pass on to you. Only a relatively small proportion of ticks actually carry disease, so if you do get bitten, don’t panic. The most common disease is Lyme disease which causes flu-like symptoms (here’s another one!) which, left untreated, can result in serious, long-term health problems. It is often, but not always, accompanied by a ‘bull’s eye’ rash. Lyme disease is difficult to diagnose and is often over-looked but can be treated with antibiotics, so do bear in mind to mention to your doctor if you have had a tick or spent time outdoors where you could have been infected. With ‘flu-like symptoms’ currently strongly associated with COVID-19, Lyme Disease Action have produced a chart to compare the two.
The best call for preventing ticks is to wear long trousers and long sleeves – we always recommend these for our woodland sessions throughout the year. Make sure you brush off your clothes when you come back home as ticks might be clinging on to them. I would also highly recommend using an insect repellent – we use a brand called Incognito as it is 100% natural, smells lovely and is effective but I am sure there are other brands available. Some people make their own repellent using rose geranium or other essential oils, so the woods sometimes smell rather wonderful during our sessions!
If you do find a tick on yourself or your child, it is important to remove it as quickly as possible but you need to be sure to remove the whole animal as their head might stay embedded if you are not careful; there is also the chance that they might regurgitate their stomach contents into you (gross!) if they become distressed so don’t try to burn or suffocate them. Instead, just use tweezers. Detailed advice on how exactly to do it seems to change every couple of years; have a look at Lyme Disease Action which not only shows you how to remove a tick but also tells you anything else there is to know about ticks.
So, please folks, be tick aware – take measures to prevent bites, deal with them appropriately if they have occurred and bear in mind the possibility of Lyme disease if you do develop symptoms. We will not let a tiny creature spoil our outdoor fun!
I am by no means a health professional or expert on ticks but draw on my experience and advice taken from Public Health England and Lyme Disease Action. Please make your own informed decisions especially when it comes to the removal of ticks and make sure you consult 111 or your GP if you feel unwell.