Think you know all you need to about ticks and Lyme disease? Think again, says John Burns. In this episode of his Outside In podcast, expert Julia Knight from Lyme Disease UK debunks some common misconceptions, and offers detailed advice on prevention and detection.
I picked up 9 of these little bastards in one day from the hills North of Loch Earn two weeks ago. I didn't even notice them until the next day when they started to itch. They were too small to remove with a plastic tick twisting tool so had to use fine metal tweezers as close to my skin as I could, which I hope didn't induce any of them to vomit their delightful gut contents into my bloodstream. After removal, I scratched the areas hard with a fingernail so they bled, in an attempt to flush out any mouthparts left behind.
The deer population thereabouts is far too high. They are everywhere, causing havoc to gardens and young tree growth. The local Estate (who incidentally, have barred access to one of the Glens on the pretext that it is now a "garden" - an exploitable loophole in Scottish Access Law) do not control deer anywhere near as adequately as they should, presumably so shooters can blast their brains out no matter which way they point a rifle.
No surprise then that this, combined with warmer winters, have noticeably increased the tick population considerably. It is literally becoming a hazard to human and environmental health.
The picture is making me itch... I seem to pick the little buggers up far too easily these days. Don't recall it ever being a problem when I was a kid, running around in bracken and various undergrowth.
I was just saying that the other day. When I was a kid and a teen, in fact up until my 30s, I never even saw ticks nevermind bites.
Used to play up the hills as a kid and bivvy and camp whilst up the hills when older. I never got ticks and neither did our dogs. I only knew one person who had ever had a tick bite out of all my hill walking and climbing acquaintances.
It was only the 90s when the dogs started to get them and I started noticing them more. At the same time the deer population exploded. I have still managed to avoid tick bites but only by being ultra careful. I used to live in a country that had tick borne encephalitis so that made me ultra careful.
I will be home next week for a trip to Rannoch and Corrour estate. It will be interesting to see how the tick levels are there considering they have removed sheep and, supposedly dropped deer numbers. Glen Feshie as well.
I fully expect to be bitten next week anyway. The odds are just too high.
Seems like it would be a good idea to create a publicly accessible Tick incident reporting map and promote it between the various online communities of outdoor enthusiasts. Since we're the ones most at risk, and most likely to encounter them, I'm sure people would be keen to share where they were bitten (as the commenters above). This could also go some way to preventing further disease spread if people begin to avoid areas in peak activity. Perhaps this exists already?
> The picture is making me itch... I seem to pick the little buggers up far too easily these days. Don't recall it ever being a problem when I was a kid, running around in bracken and various undergrowth.
Same here. We have no deer, badgers or squirrels here and hardly any sheep. Cats and dogs have always been known to get the odd tick, but until about 4 years ago I never heard of a human getting one and I've spent a lot of time doing stuff with scouts in woodland & heathland. Now dogs are fashionable pets (with many being imported either from UK breeders or as rescue dogs), people are starting to get them - still rare, but they're definitely increasing. It's got to the point where I tell my scouts about them on local camps. My daughter found one on her head last summer - 3 days after the suspected aquisition occurrence - rolling round in a meadow popular with dog walkers. The spread of TBE is also a concern, but at least that can be vaccinated against.
With my epidemiologists hat on, what would be good would be an easy and quick option to record presence of ticks on clothing/skin and bites in the UKC logbooks, -- it should be called "The Tick Box". That way, we could collect denominator data (all the instances when people don't find ticks) which they would never be bothered to report if they had to log onto a system specifically to report absence of tick data.
I’m unfortunate enough to have contracted Lymes about 12 years ago from a tick at cheddar. I used to climb a lot there and would often remove half a dozen or so after a trip especially after wading through undergrowth to lesser frequented areas. There are a lot of feral goats and sheep there which probably accounts for it. When I was at Hutton roof a couple of years ago , the place was crawling with ticks. My experience with lymes has not been positive and I ended up back on antibiotics for an extended period over lockdown. The consultant now is suggesting that if it flares up again that I should get a lumbar puncture to test for it in spinal fluid.I suggest people don’t underestimate how bad this thing can be and take the sensible precautions suggested.
I wonder if the Tick Surveillance Scheme could do something like this... Unlikely I know that they'd get any money to facilitate something like this in the current environment, but they must the the best placed organisation with a lot of existing data and expertise.
Could imagine them just adding a simple web form allowing people to report having seen ticks, and also hosting a map with a combined overlay showing density of reports of ticks and verified ticks that people have sent in. Possibly with density weighted depending on how frequented the area was (based on mobile phone data? Google have such data) if they want to get fancy.
Bit of a shame they don't seem to make their existing data publicly accessible already.
I think that the large numbers of deer are only part of the problem. In the past sheep hoovered up the ticks and then when they were dipped all the ticked were killed off. Now sheep are not dipped and hence we've a lot more ticks.
I always wear long trousers, gaiters and long sleeves when I'm in the hills. However I picked up a tick at the local model flying club field from the grass there.
Re tick removal, I use eyebrow tweezers as they are narrow and pointed. Most commercial tools are just too big for the smaller ticks.
They are worse than ever in Scotland this year I've had 6 bites with tick attached, and at least the same number of nips where no tick remained but the tell tale itchy lump appeared. First bite in 2022 was in mid March.
I take all the precautions but still get bitten. I'm currently on my third course of doxycycline in 7 years after having some reaction or other after being bitten. Only 1 out of 3 times have I had any skin rash though. Thankfully most GPs up in Highland are pretty clued up.
> In the past sheep hoovered up the ticks and then when they were dipped all the ticked were killed off. Now sheep are not dipped and hence we've a lot more ticks.
Hmm... organophosphate pesticides... you might have a point... Not sure its been banned, though, just the risks need to be managed
Says OP dips were mandated, twice a year, in the 70s & 80s.
People laugh when they see me wearing gaiters on dry days in the summer but I wear them for two reasons... one is to prevent heather getting into my boots (because that stuff is a nightmare to pick out of your woolen boot socks) and the second is to prevent ticks.
Gaiters, long trousers, and long sleeve tops are a must if going off trail. Avoid grit boxes on grouse moors as they're a haven for ticks. Avoid walking through ferns and when you have to go through them, do regular tick checks. Avoid deer trails no matter how tempting it is to follow them through the undergrowth. If you see deer, stop and do regular tick checks.
I've caught them a number of times crawling up my trousers and squashed them before they could get anywhere close to latching on. The one time I failed to spot them was in the Lake District after walking underneath some trees, I had two drop onto my backpack and didn't notice until I stopped to eat lunch. Thankfully, I always use an insect repellent under my trousers, on my legs, around my waist, my arms under my long sleeve shirt, the back of my hands, my ears and behind them, and around my neck. I also treat my hiking gear with insect repellent. Paranoid? perhaps but it keeps the ticks off me.
Not paranoid, actually very sensible.
Unfortunately tick prevention now makes summer hill activity a smelly, sweaty experience. Shorts and T shirts may be a thing of the past, especially in areas where deer numbers are poorly controlled, or where there are undipped sheep.
Like most things, it boils down to economics. The longer deer shooting remains a money-spinner, the less likely the tick epidemic will be addressed.
> The longer deer shooting remains a money-spinner, the less likely the tick epidemic will be addressed.
Part of the problem in much of S England is that deer populations are not being controlled, and numbers are escalating. I've seen then happily grazing at the side of the busy road into Wareham.
> Unfortunately tick prevention now makes summer hill activity a smelly, sweaty experience. Shorts and T shirts may be a thing of the past.
Why not just put deet on arms and legs (I believe it is effective against ticks)?
Or is there any reason not to spray with permethrin?
I haven't looked but presumably some research has been done on the incidence of the disease amongst outdoor workers, farmers, the forestry industry etc, rural communities as compared to other sectors/populations?
Some of the eastern edges are bad for them now, particularly Froggatt, Curbar, and Gardoms. I don’t think it's a coincidence that this mirrors an explosion in the deer population in this area over recent years.
I brush 8 off my clothing a week ago at Curbar after straying off the path into bracken under the crag.
Generally I think Peak climbers are a bit oblivious to the local tick risk, assuming it's only a serious concern in other places e.g. Scotland.
Ah, the irony! Lyme disease can cause serious CFS -like illness, which can last decades ..... and organophosphate poisoning (in humans) has *also* been implicated in many people with decades-long ME/cfs, too.
Rock & a hard place here. No easy solutions, I guess..... reading this thread, I think I'll dust off my gaiters for any undergrowth-ey outdoor walks up here in Scotland in future. Prevention is the best way....
> Why not just put deet on arms and legs (I believe it is effective against ticks)?
> Or is there any reason not to spray with permethrin?
Smidge works on ticks too...
1) Permethrin on socks, trousers, shorts, etc. Ticks fall off after short contact
2) Picaridin (smidge) on skin, everywhere! Again, ticks give up after crawling on skin for a short while
3) Deet on buff, hat (works as a repellant for midges). Repels midges - not sure repellant works on ticks
You're unlikely to get bothered with this combo. Then again I don't seem to get bothered by ticks much. Six years living in Ballachulish and climbing, walking, photography and I've maybe had 3 tick 'bites' in total.
> Ah, the irony! Lyme disease can cause serious CFS
So is it OP sheep dip, or Lyme from ticks picked up during dipping, that causes those long-term problems...? Correlation & causation...
> Why not just put deet on arms and legs (I believe it is effective against ticks)?
That's what I meant by 'smelly'. Also I tend to sweat a lot more under a layer of deet - plus it irritates the eyes, should any be carried into them by sweat.
> Or is there any reason not to spray with permethrin?
I haven't tried permethrin yet, but will certainly give it a go.
Avon Skin So Soft is fairly effective against ticks. Also the smell is marginally more pleasant than deet, but I've found it does need several applications during the day.
Ticks seem to go for certain people, and I seem to be one of them. I think it has something to do with blood type (I'm blood type A) and if you sweat a lot (which I do).
Thanks for posting this. Made me check after being at Curbar yesterday and I found two. I'll be more careful from now on. And thanks to others for the advice that's been posted on this thread
Its why I flatly refuse to wear shorts in rural Scotland, rarely gets warm enough for me to be uncomfortable in summer anyway and I'd rather not be spraying everything with nasties if I can avoid it.
I never seem to have an issue when walking, all my tick encounters seem to have come about from staying in one place for a while belaying or whatever.
I think up here it's just another thing to assume will be a problem you need to work around, unless you're lucky, like the midges
Speaking of which I've not seen a "Will there be midges in Scotland this summer" thread yet this year.
Have just read this and listened to the podcast tonight. Thanks for highlighting this, a timely reminder for me to check regularly.
I managed find a tick today. It was tiny and seemed to be just attaching to my leg so I guess it was very recently acquired. However, if it was picked up just today it is my first tick that I’ve picked up in a city walking in it’s urban parkland that I know of. Previous ones only climbing and hillwalking.
> I used to live in a country that had tick borne encephalitis so that made me ultra careful.
Seriously bad news - there is TBE in the UK now.
Am I alone in not being the slightest bit concerned by ticks? I must have picked up many hundreds of them over a couple of decades of orienteering, I recall that my record haul for a day (in Inshriach Forest) was 34. A shower gives a good opportunity to check for them, and if that is in the late afternoon then most won't have even latched on.
All of the S Lakes/N Lanc limestone areas are really bad for them in my experience. I did a 2min recce of Cragfoot, which is right off the road and got 7 bites once. Nine years ago, still living with the consequences! It's no joke is it? Up around Chapel head you can see them scores of them crawling all over your skin sometimes. I'm actually constantly surprised how unaware many people are of them and the risk they pose. A lot of people seem to think they are just a dog thing too. You really don't want to wait until you've had bites before you take precautions, take it from us! I tend to tuck trousers into socks and then spray repellent around my shoes and ankles as a minimum (and elsewhere in longer vegetation) and avoid brushing against tall vegetation as much as possible.
> A shower gives a good opportunity to check for them, and if that is in the late afternoon then most won't have even latched on.
I can't see in my hair, or on my back, or in my arse crack, or undercarriage. More importantly, perhaps, I can't reach there to remove them.
I find they attach pretty quickly. I get most of them on my waistline, but have also had them on arms.
I have got used to checking for them regularly, especially after brushing past or under overgrowth. I wear a silly Tilley, too, to keep them out of my hair (as well as sun protection).
I'm not necessarily recommending this, but I've chosen to wear shorts & t-shirt whenever possible so that I can spot the little buggers immediately rather than have them crawl up trouser legs and sleeves unnoticed...
I think you may be a little overconfident it your abilities to detect them on your skin. They are both fast and light-footed and not to mention very numerous. You'd have to be continuously checking to make sure one didn't slip by your watch. I can see where you are coming from in terms of giving them less places to hide but remain sceptical about this approach.
I'm always amused by the idea that long trousers and sleeves prevent them! I very rarely wear shorts, I'm always covered up but I get more ticks than most people I know! The little blighters just climb to my waist band and find their way in to the cosy spot there 🤷
I am waiting for the Lymes disease vaccine to get approval, apparently it is being trialled just now. I have had TBE vaccines in the past for various travels.
I am intrigued by someone up thread suggesting that smidge works against them! Could be worth a try. I have been reluctant to use permetherin as I believe it is not good when it gets into water sources.
My partner and I got 3 each at Curbar a couple weekends back. Likely bushwhacking around the bottom trying to find Deadbay Crack.
Put my clothes in the wash and pulled another off myself the following weekend, which I'm pretty sure survived the wash and got me when I put my climbing trousers on again. A day later I bought a tumble drier.
Smidge themselves state that it's effective against ticks. It's my go-to repellant in large part because of that.
Been considering some Permethrin recently, but yes it has an effect on aquatic invertebrates if it gets into water sources so I'm also not keen.