Ticks - Information for Patients

Tick bites are a very common minor hazard of spending time outdoors in the Highlands of Scotland.

What are ticks ?

Ticks are not insects. They can't jump or fly. They are tiny spider-like creatures with two body parts and eight legs. They are blood suckers and have three life stages: larva, nymph and adult. The ticks have one meal of blood at each stage and the whole life cycle lasts 1-2 years.

Where are ticks found ?

Ticks like moist, shady environments. They are found in wooded areas, in fallen leaves, undergrowth and long grass and don't normally go higher than one metre off the ground. They feed off the blood of many animals such as deer, sheep, rabbits, mice and birds so they also need to live in places where these animals can be found.

What is Lyme Disease ?

Lyme disease is an illness that may result from the bite of a tick infected with the Lyme disease bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi). It was named in 1977 when researchers investigated the cause of arthritis among children living in Lyme, Connecticut and realised that it was caused by an infection.

Does a tick bite always cause an infection ?

No - very few ticks will be infected with the bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi) which causes Lyme disease and only a fraction of those will pass on the infection. Of the many species of tick, it is the deer tick which carries the bacterium and the low number of deer on Skye makes deer ticks rarer than other parts of Scotland - sheep ticks are the main species in this area and do not transfer the Lyme disease bacterium. A tick has to stay feeding for longer than 24 hours in order to pass on any infection so if you remove them quickly there should be no problem. However, at the nymph stage ticks are very small and may not be felt. That is why regular checking is important.

What are the signs & symptoms of infection ?

A large, reddish, and often 'target'shaped' rash (erythema migrans) that increases in size may appear at the site of the bite, usually between 3 and 30 days afterwards.



     The characteristic 'target' shape

            of Erythema Migrans












There may be symptoms of fever, headache, tiredness and muscle or joint pain - a bit like flu. In a few people it may also lead to more serious illness which affects the joints (arthritis), heart or nervous system.

Is treatment required ?

Treatment is not necessary if ticks are removed promptly and there is no rash or other symptoms

How can infection be prevented ?

  • Wear light coloured clothing - to help you spot ticks
  • Tuck trousers into socks
  • Walk along the centre of paths
  • Check regularly for ticks when out and on return home promptly remove all ticks
  • Check pets for ticks and remove
  • Consider the use of insect  repellent (DEET based) on clothes and exposed skin
  • Clothing can also be treated with repellents containing permethrin

How should ticks be removed ?

The tick should be grasped with medium tipped tweezers as close to the skin as possible. With a steady motion, pull the tick's body away from the skin without twisting. The tick's mouthparts may remain in the skin but will eventually come out. Further attempts to remove them may break the skin and cause infection.

Wash hands and disinfect the tweezers and the bite site before and after removal.

Do not use petroleum jelly or any other product.

If you have problems removing a tick, or are concerned about a rash you may have, please contact your GP to discuss.

Useful Links / More Information

http://www.nhs24.co.uk/ - search under 'ticks'

Borreliosis and Associated Diseases Awareness UK at http://www.bada-uk.org/