Are You Tick Aware?

Written by Jenny O’Dea, Ireland © April 2009

Spring is such a beautiful time of year – the budding trees, the blossoming flowers, the new born lambs. But are you aware of hidden dangers lurking beneath? It is this time of year that insects and bugs come out of hiding and one of the dangerous bugs which are in the class of arachnids are ticks.

Ticks are initially born as small six legged larvae, less than a mm in size. They feed on small rodents such as mice or birds. The larva will begin to molt and develop two more legs and mature into nymphs. These nymphs begin to search for larger animals, where they will mature into adults, feed and mate.

They are able to detect carbon dioxide from passing animals and lay in wait in tall grasses, bushes and overhanging branches. Unfortunately, humans, pets, farm animals as well as wildlife are prey to the waiting tick.

The dangers with tick bites are becoming more widely known among the medical profession. Local governments and politicians are being encouraged by groups of patients to become more aware of diseases they carry. One such disease is known as Lyme disease or borreliosis. This is a potentially debilitating illness, if not recognized during the early stages.

One of the tell tale signs of infection following a tick bite is a rash, sometimes showing as a bulls eye ring around the bite. However this rash is not always present in all patients and may even appear away from the site of the bite. Some patients may develop flu-like symptoms and a fever, which will also indicate a possible infection.

Occasionally, the patient may be asymptomatic, whereby they carry the Lyme disease but have no outwardly obvious symptoms. Ill health may crop up years later following an illness or period of stress. This leads to disseminated (or late) Lyme disease, of which symptoms greatly mimic multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome or Parkinson’s disease. The disease can lead to joint pain, weakness, muscle aches, pelvic pain, visual problems, numbness, tingling, tremours, headaches and heart problems, and can even result in paralysis and loss of sight.

To detect Lyme disease there is a test available called ‘Elisa’ which looks for antibodies to the borrelia bacteria in the body. This test can show up negative during the first few weeks of infection until sufficient antibodies are produced. Chronic Lyme sufferers may also have a false negative result, due to the depleted immune system not being able to produce antibodies in sufficient numbers for the test to show positive. There are other tests available such as PCR analysis and LTT (Melisa labs. in Germany) although patients often have to submit these privately.

The best method for treating Lyme disease is through antibiotics. Lyme can be treated effectively if detected in the early stages. If you have recently been bitten by a tick and notice a rash do not hesitate to get it checked out immediately. Later stages of Lyme will need aggressive and long term antibiotic treatment to control the disease. The longer the infection, the harder it is to clear. Of course prevention is better than cure.

There have been researches (authored by Prof. Gray of University of Dublin) showing that ticks collected in the areas of County Kerry, Galway, Connemara and Wicklow do carry the borrelia bacteria.

Lyme disease is currently not a notifiable disease here in Ireland. However, talks are underway to change this status. This will make the illness more recognizable among Irish physicians.

If you’d like more information on Lyme disease there is a group on Facebook called ‘Tick Talk Ireland’. Here you can find sections on research articles, testing, tick removal and Lyme disease symptoms.

To protect against ticks always:

  • Carry tick repellents & spray onto outer clothing before any countryside activities
  • Keep all trouser legs tucked in & wear shiny material to prevent ticks hanging onto clothes
  • Stick to footpaths & avoid brushing against long grass or going under overhanging branches
  • Always check clothing & skin when getting home, including all the family pets

It is down to us to be tick aware!