Lack of awareness
Many people have never heard of ticks. Others do know what they are but are unaware that ticks in the UK and Ireland can carry and transmit a number of diseases to all manner of wildlife, livestock, domestic pets and humans, and not just in rural areas. Other people have grown up in situations where they have been in regular contact with ticks but perhaps feel that, so far, they have only been a mild irritation and are nothing to worry about. Some people are used to tick but are using out-of-date methods of tick removal which may increase the risk of disease transmission.
Unfortunately, various combined factors now mean that we, and our pets, are at increased risk of contracting a tick-borne infection.
There is no need to panic about ticks but an awareness of their presence, the simple precautions that can be taken against tick bites on people and pets, and how to remove them safely, is key to avoiding contracting tick-borne diseases.
More contact with ticks
Recent increased risks could be due to a number of probable factors:
- An increased number of residential and business estates are encroaching on rural surroundings.
- A greater number of people are involved in outdoor recreational and sporting pursuits which take them into tick habitat.
- Climate change has resulted in milder winters. Ticks, which are active at temperatures as low as 3.5 °C, have more opportunity to feed and breed.
- An extended growing season for vegetation (due to climate changes). This has increased the number of some of the tick’s host species, which in turn means more available hosts for the ticks.
- A reduction in certain practices such as sheep dipping, moorland burning and bracken control contribute to the survival of ticks. Dipped sheep act as a mop for ticks, which die when they come into contact with the treated fleece. Moorland burning and bracken control can kill local tick populations and take away the habitat that suits them.
There are a number of bacterial, viral, rickettsial and protozoal diseases carried by UK ticks. Several of these can cause debilitating symptoms in humans and animals. However, there are no vaccines available to defend against them. Therefore, awareness and preventative measures are the best defence.
For detailed information on tick-borne diseases that can affect people and animals, see our ‘Diseases‘ and ‘Pets‘ sections.
The risks to travellers abroad
Tick-borne Encephalitis (TBE) is a potentially life-threatening and debilitating disease of the nervous system. It can lead to meningitis and in serious cases result in paralysis and death, with one in thirty cases proving fatal. The ‘Tick Alert‘ campaign warns travellers to be aware of ticks.
A spokesperson for Tick Alert said:
“Ticks are an increasing risk in many parts of mainland Europe. Experts warn us that Tick-Borne Encephalitis is now endemic in 27 countries from areas of Scandinavia down to the Mediterranean”.
Vaccinations against TBE are available from GP surgeries, health centres and MASTA clinics.