UK: Ticks on the rise – How dangerous are tick bites? – Published 030514 1522z

Who, What, Why: How dangerous are tick bites in the UK?

Tick swollen with blood

Walkers are being warned to protect themselves against tick bites after a wet and mild winter. Just how dangerous are ticks, asks Vanessa Barford.

Experts have warned that ticks – blood-sucking, disease-carrying arachnids – appear to be on the rise in the UK.

Richard Wall, professor of Zoology at Bristol University, says there’s no definitive data on how many ticks are in the country. Some areas have none. Others – usually woodland and heath areas – may have more than 100 per square metre. However, the general consensus among rural communities is they are on the up, largely as a result of the warmer and wetter weather (good breeding conditions) and the growing number of wild deer (ticks like living on their skin).

The answer

  • Ticks are on the rise in the UK
  • Lyme disease is too
  • It is treatable so long as it is caught early
  • Symptoms usually take between three days to six weeks to appear

The number of confirmed cases of Lyme disease – the most serious bacteria infection spread to humans by infected ticks – has also increased, according to Dr Tim Brooks, head of the Rare and Imported Pathogens Laboratory. He says laboratory proven cases have risen from about 200 in the late 1990s, to 1,200 last year, although the actual number of cases is probably three times that. Awareness and testing of the disease has also gone up, so the figures have to be seen in that context, he adds.

Lyme disease is treatable with antibiotics if it’s diagnosed early. But neurological problems and joint pain can develop months or years later if it’s left untreated. In the worst cases, it can be fatal.

The most common symptom is a pink or red circular “bull’s-eye” rash that develops around the area of the bite, but it doesn’t appear in everyone. Flu-like symptoms and fatigue are other noticeable signs of infection.

Public Health England says the best way for walkers to avoid getting bitten is to use repellent, wear light coloured clothes so that ticks can easily be seen and walk on paths and avoid long grass or verges. Dog walkers are also advised to check their pets as ticks spread other diseases as well as Lyme disease to animals as well.

For those worried about their gardens, keeping lawns short, raking up leaf litter and creating a buffer zone between habitats ticks tend to like and lawn-paving, wood chips and gravel can help.

However, Prof Wall says a very small proportion of ticks carry Lyme disease.

Dr Brooks says the disease is a far bigger problem in other parts of Europe and the US, especially on the East Coast.

The most important thing is for those that think they might have symptoms of Lyme disease to go to the GP as prompt treatment will prevent complications. Symptoms usually take between three days to six weeks to appear after a tick bite.

And for those unsure how to remove a tick? Use fine tipped tweezers, or a tick-removal tool, to grasp the tick by the head as close to the skin as possible. Pull firmly and steadily, without twisting, as this could increase the risk of infection by prompting the tick to regurgitate saliva into the bite wound.

After the tick is removed, apply antiseptic and beware of a rash.

Older related material:


06 Oct 2012:

A 38-year-old man being treated for Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust has died.

The man had recently returned home to the UK and was being treated in complete isolation after being admitted to Gartnavel General Hospitals Brownlee Centre in Glasgow, less than three hours after arriving in Scotland.

He was then transferred to the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust. Tests revealed he flew into Scotland from Dubai, though his journey originated in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

It was the first recorded case of the deadly disease in the UK. Other passengers who sat close to him on an aircraft are undergoing daily health checks. –  Sky News (link to full story)

Glasgow man ‘critical’ with first UK case of killer fever

05 Oct 2012: A GLASGOW man is being treated in isolation after becoming the first person diagnosed in Britain with the potentially lethal Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever.

The 38-year-old is in a critical condition at the Brownlee specialist unit at Gartnavel Hospital in Glasgow.

He was admitted on Tuesday afternoon, less than three hours after flying into the city at 12:35pm on a connecting flight from Dubai. Test results confirmed his condition yesterday. – (link to full story)

Crimean–Congo hemorrhagic fever (link to Wikipedia)

17 May, 2012: Five people have died in the Black Sea region of Turkey of Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, one of the diseases that can be transmitted by tick bites.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is spread to humans by infected ticks. Ticks are tiny, spider-like insects found in woodland areas that feed on the blood of mammals, including humans.

Tick bites often go unnoticed and the tick can remain feeding for several days before dropping off. The longer the tick is in place, the higher the risk of it passing on the infection.

Lyme disease can affect your skin, joints, heart and nervous system

Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne infectious disease in Europe and North America. People who spend time in woodland or heath areas are more at risk of developing Lyme disease because these areas are where tick-carrying animals, such as deer and mice, live.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) estimates that there are 2,000 to 3,000 cases of Lyme disease in England and Wales each year, and that about 15%-20% of cases occur while people are abroad.

Parts of the UK that are known to have a high population of ticks include:

the New Forest in Hampshire
the South Downs
parts of Wiltshire and Berkshire
Thetford Forest in Norfolk
the Lake District
the Yorkshire Moors
the Scottish Highlands

Most tick bites occur in late spring, early summer and during the autumn because these are the times of year when most people take part in outdoor activities, such as hiking and camping NHS Choices

More about Lyme disease here:

Lyme is just one of a lengthening list of emerging infectious diseases that are soaring.

Experts say that increasing temperatures and altered precipitation patterns that accompany climate change are already playing at least a partial role in the spread and intensity of zoonoses infectious agents that begin in animals and account for an estimated 75 percent of all newly emerging diseases -� Huffington Post

More about global warming and newly emerging diseases here:

The Dangers of Tick Bitesand how to avoid being bitten! See:


Kristin Collins, Wisconsin Lyme Network VP and mother of Darren, a young boy who contacted Lyme Disease said,

I know hundreds and hundreds of families dealing with this.. Its heart-wrenching. Its scary. Its everywhere. Our kids are at a huge risk.

Early treatment is vital If you spot a tick on your skin, know how to remove it and/or seek medical attention immediately


3 thoughts on “UK: Ticks on the rise – How dangerous are tick bites? – Published 030514 1522z

  1. Ticks and your health: Information about tick bite risks and prevention


    Public Health England

    Publication date: April 2013


    This factsheet provides important health advice and some basic precautions you can take to make sure you and your family avoid tick bites.

    Information can be found on the following:

    What are ticks and where can you find them?
    How do you come into contact with ticks?
    Main health risks of ticks
    How to perform a tick check
    What to do if you have been bitten by a tick

    An additional leaflet for GPs is available with more clinical advice and symptoms of Lyme disease.

    Download full publication

    Ticks and your health: information about tick bite risks and prevention document (PDF, 872 KB)

    Ticks and your health: information about tick bite risks and prevention leaflet (PDF, 543 KB)

    Leaflet for GPs: Lyme disease, ticks and your patient’s health (PDF, 603 KB)


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