by Ian Brand

SPRING has arrived, and summer is not so far away, prompting a common topic of conversation amongst naturalists, tick bites and Lyme disease, and also the writing of this article.

Lyme Disease was surprisingly only recognised as recently as 1975, and was first described following an outbreak in Lyme, Connecticut, which is how it got its name. Caused by a bacterial infection, it is transmitted to humans through a bite from an infected tick, with approximately 3,000 cases annually in the UK.

Ticks are tiny, spider-like creatures, which feed on the blood of animals. They are not like other blood-sucking invertebrates: mosquitoes, fleas and midges, all of which are insects with six legs and three body parts. Ticks are Arachnids, with eight legs just like spiders but just one body part compared to the spiders’ two.

The Deer or Sheep tick (Ixodes ricinus) has amazingly four life stages: egg, larva, nymph and adult, and requires three different hosts to complete its 2-3 year life cycle.

Each stage has its preferred host. It is only the adult tick (see photo insert) that chooses larger mammals, including us humans.

Those of us who spend time in the countryside just need to be “tick aware”. In areas of long grass, wear trousers tucked into socks, using insect repellent. Once home checking both your clothing and skin.

If you do find a tick don’t panic. Most tick bites do not cause Lyme disease, and the tick needs to be attached for 24 hours to transmit infection.

Ticks are easily removed using a pair of fine-tipped tweezers. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, and pull upwards. Once removed, wash with soap and water or antiseptic, keeping the area under observation for several weeks.

In the unlikely event you do become infected, the most common symptom is a rash. Developing any time from 3 - 30 days later. The rash is usually painless and non-itchy, gradually increasing in size and has a central clearing that gives the appearance of a bull’s eye (see photo).

Others may only have “flu-like” symptoms. That is the time for blood tests, especially in someone in an at-risk occupation. Treatment is a three-week course with the antibiotic, Doxycycline. A small number of people have either no early symptoms or the rash is missed and present late. Chronic Lyme disease is poorly understood, symptoms are non-specific and blood tests are unreliable. Specialist involvement is then required.

Concerned and worried? Don’t be; just be tick aware, the wonderful Yorkshire countryside is waiting for you.