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Come summer, everything suddenly feels so much better – the days are longer and brighter, there is plenty of stuff to get up to and you can finally soak up some of that much-needed vitamin-D. The only thing that might jeopardise the festive vibe now, is – that’s right: ticks.
As summer slowly inches closer, so are – unfortunately – the tiny bloodthirsty creates called ticks. In order to help you avoid all that uncomfortableness that can come with ticks, we’ve created your ultimate guide on what to know about them, how to avoid them and what to do if they manage to get you anyway.
Many of us probably remember hearing, as a kid, that tall grass always is filled with ticks and that checking each other for unwelcome intruders after a day out is absolutely crucial. So we’re brought up knowing that we do not want them – but why is that?
Ticks are classified as Arachnida, which is a group of insects that all have four legs and no wings and where for example spiders and scorpions are included as well. Fossil records suggest that these little bloodthirsty creatures have been around for a staggering 90 million years.
There are over 800 species of ticks around the world but only two groups – hard ticks and soft ticks – are known to transmit diseases. It is impossible to determine if a tick is carrying an infection, so you’d want to make sure to do your best to 1. avoid getting them and 2. get rid of them if you do get them!
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People who spend time in grassy areas and forests are at a higher risk of picking up these freeloaders, especially during the months from April through September. Having pets, as well, bring on a higher risk for tick bites so using tick-preventing sprays and shampoos for your furry friends could be a good idea – as well as checking their skin for ticks post walks.
Ticks generally latch onto your feet or legs and then climb up to your upper body or head, so when you’re out hiking, make sure to use the path when possible and avoid the tall grass.
If you know you’re heading to tick-territory, wearing an insect repellent with 20 % or more DEET, picaridin or IR3535 on any skin exposed areas is a good idea.
A new U.S. government study has confirmed that insecticide-treated clothes for preventing tick-borne ills do, in fact, do their job.
Tests found that the clothing either quickly caused ticks to fall off, or rendered them unable to bite. The clothes were pretreated with permethrin, a synthetic form of an insect-thwarting compound from the chrysanthemum flower, that is used in insecticide sprays and shampoos and creams that treat lice and scabies.
Lastly, don’t forget to do a full-body check once you get in from the outdoors!
Most tick bites won’t be an issue as long as you spot them shortly after getting back in. Removing the tick from your body within 12 hours of being bitten means an infected tick won’t have had enough time to spread the bacteria into your body.
If you do spot one, get fine-tipped tweezers and try to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible. The goal is to get rid of all of it – head and mouth as well, then steadily pull upward without twisting. After removing it, clean the bite area and your own hands with alcohol or an iodine scrub.
Ticks tend to like narrow and hidden places for their feast, so places to look out for are behind your ears; in your belly button; in your armpits; between your toes and on your scalp.
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The majority of people with tick bites don’t develop any symptoms at all and don’t recall being bitten, which is why one easily walks around with a bite unknowingly.
Some common symptoms, however, can be itching, burning and redness. These usually don’t show until the tick has finished its “blood meal” and falls off.
A small part of the population may be sensitive or allergic to tick bites and might then develop a rash, swelling or paralysis. Another minor group may also experience some immediate symptoms after getting bitten – like vomiting; fever; weakness; a headache or confusion. This is very rare, but if it does occur – the affected person should be seen by a doctor as soon as possible.
Although most ticks actually don’t carry pathogens, it’s still important to remove them as soon as possible, since it’s impossible to tell just by looking at them if they are transmitters of disease.
The ones who are, however, can be carrying a range of tick-borne diseases. The most common one might be Lyme Disease which is a chronic disease caused by the bite of an infected tick, that results in flu-like symptoms such as headache, fever and joint pains.
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If untreated with antibiotics, a range of other symptoms occur which are similar to those experienced in chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
Recently, the first vaccination to prevent people from catching Lyme disease was developed in the UK. The vaccine is manufactured by pharmaceutical group Valneva, has successfully passed human clinical trials and will soon be available for anyone over the age of two.
Other common diseases are Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Anaplasmosis, Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness, Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever, and Tularemia.
Most tick-borne illnesses are treated with a simple antibiotic called Doxycycline if they are discovered and treated early.
The bottom line is that if you put some effort into preventing getting them, and remember to do the full-body checks post outdoor activities – you most likely won’t have to worry about either new vaccines or doxycyclines and you’ll be all set for summer!
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By Heather Snelgar
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