Question

How dangerous are ticks and what's the best way to remove ticks?

Answer

Chris asked GP Laurence about the best way of getting rid of tricky ticks...

Laurence - There are several different types of ticks. They're all parts of the spider family, the arachnids. In the UK we mostly have hard-bodied ticks. So these are little creatures that tend to live in long grass and in bracken if you’re walking through forested areas if you’re going walking through there, they can climb onto your skin and they don’t fly or they don’t leap as some people think. And then once they are on your skin they burrow in  little mouthparts that they insert under the skin and they actually secrete a little cement type substance within their saliva to really root themselves in quite firmly, and then once they are in there they can feed for certainly hours, sometimes for days. So I think the key thing with ticks is actually a lot of the disease transmission that occurs with them comes towards the end of the feed and so the priority really is getting them off quickly. Again as with the jellyfish there’s lots of stories of methods that aren’t really valid so smothering them in Vaseline, burning them off with a lighter, or all of these sorts of things - a)  I think they're likely to be hanging around on your skin for ages, or b) you're likely to give yourself a burn or a worse problem to be honest.

So the key thing is you want to get the tick out intact. So with some really fine tweezers get right to the base of it and try and pull it out with the mouthparts intact, so nice straight pulling motion not too much twisting because otherwise it'll break. You'll be left with the body the tick coming out and the mouthparts left in, so close to the skin fine tweezers, straight pull. You can actually buy devices, probably the best place to get them is a pet shop or a veterinary surgeon’s that are designed to do this. The other thing never to do is don’t squeeze the body of the tick because all you are doing there is squeezing all of the saliva all of the blood from previous hosts with all of these infections and is going to go straight in and that's the worst thing you want to do.

Chris - What sorts of things should people look out for if they find that they have been bitten by a tick? What should they be aware of?

Laurence - So I guess it also depends where abouts in the world you are. There are literally hundreds of tick borne diseases. In the UK particularly in East Anglia, the most common one is Lyme's disease. After infection there can be a period of several days sometimes several weeks, and then you can typically develop this rash that looks a bit like a bullseye around the sides of the bite. That then generally fades and actually if it's not treated at that stage it can go on to cause more disseminated problems that can cause joint pains and joint aches. It can rarely cause neurological problems so you can stop working you could end up with numbness or weakness in areas, it can even affect the heart. So it is quite a serious condition. The good thing is if you detected early you can treat it very effectively with simple oral antibiotics. So I think that the thing to do if you've had a tick bite. We wouldn't need to treat every tick bite because actually this transmission doesn't occur particularly often but if you have a tick bite and then you get a rash you just need to go into your GP and treat this.

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