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Being 'tick aware'

Whether living in or travelling to the regions in the UK with a tick population or going abroad where tick-borne infectious diseases are more common, take time to learn how to prevent tick bites - and what to do if you are bitten by one.

What are ticks?

Ticks are tiny blood-sucking anthropods that resemble small spiders or mites. The species Ixodes ricinus, often known as the deer or sheep tick, is the one most often found on humans. The larvae only have six legs, but the nymphs and adults have eight legs.


Ticks cannot fly or jump but climb on an animal when it passes by. They may be present on their host animal, including humans, for several hours before feeding. To feed, they bite into the animal to attach themselves to the skin. They then feed on blood from the host and after five to seven days they drop off when full. Because the tick's saliva carries a natural anaesthetic, you may not notice being bitten.

Before they have fed, ticks are so small they can be mistaken for a speck of dirt or a freckle. They can be as small as a poppy seed.

After feeding, adult ticks can be the size of a small pea and become lighter in colour.

What diseases do ticks carry?

Ticks can carry infections and transmit them to people when they bite. A common question for travellers is: what diseases can you get from ticks? These include:

Lyme disease: The most common tick-borne infectious disease in Europe and North America, this infection can affect your skin and joints as well as your heart and nervous system. There are up to 3,000 cases of Lyme disease in England and Wales every year. Around 15% of these cases would have been contracted abroad. Early on, a bull's-eye-like rash may appear in 70% of cases and flu-like symptoms may also occur. If untreated with antibiotics, more serious complications, such as nerve damage or arthritis, can occur months or years later.

Tick-borne encephalitis: A viral infection that is normally mild and requires no treatment, but in some cases it causes encephalitis or meningitis. Although the virus is not found in the UK, travellers to other countries in Europe, Siberia and the Far East may be bitten by ticks carrying the disease. Symptoms vary, depending on the region and insect. The European form of the virus has a two to 28-day incubation period before flu-like symptoms appear, whereas symptoms of the Far Eastern version are more gradual and can be more severe.

Louping-ill: A viral infection that affects the central nervous system and that primarily affects sheep in the UK, though occasionally it can affect people.

Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever: A serious viral infection spread by ticks, it has a high fatality rate. After an incubation period of one to 13 days, symptoms that include headache, joint and abdominal pain and vomiting suddenly appear.

Other Illnesses transmitted by ticks that may be present in some places abroad include Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularaemia, ehrlichiosis, relapsing fever, Colorado tick fever and babesiosis.

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