Hands up all those who knew that the week of May 7th-13th was TickAlert Week. Ticks are second only to mosquitoes as carriers of diseases affecting humans, primarily Lyme Disease in the UK and Tick Borne Encephalitis (TBE) in continental Europe. In recent years there have been significant increases in cases of Lyme Disease in Scotland – 177 last year compared with 10 a decade ago. TBE has become endemic in some 27 countries, including Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Croatia and Russia. Both conditions have seriously debilitating effects and can be fatal. The Cairngorms National Park has recently run a free advice course on tick control and Lyme disease which proved popular with members of the public, gamekeepers, farmers, health centre staff and outdoor instructors.

tickTicks can attach themselves almost anywhere on the body, but prefer creases like the armpit, groin and back of the knee. Victims do not feel the bite because the tick also injects a toxin that anaesthetises the bite area. The advice for anyone who goes to the countryside in an infected area is to use an insect repellent which works against ticks and to wear long trousers tucked into socks as well as covering other exposed areas of flesh as far as is practical.

SYMPTOMS: Following a tick bite a rash known as erythema migrans develops. It looks like a bulls eye, i.e. a red circle which expands away from the bite and clears in the centre. The patient may complain of flu-like symptoms such as tiredness, headache and joint and muscle aches. To make the diagnosis difficult, a rash does not necessarily develop in all cases and left untreated the disease may progress and result in arthritis and symptoms of the nervous system and heart. TICK REMOVAL: If ticks are found on the body they should be carefully removed with fine-tipped tweezers and great care should be taken not to break off the tick's mouth-parts in the bite as this can greatly increase the risk of infection. Here is what you do:

ON-GOING RESEARCH AT ABERDEEN UNIVERSITY: Researchers at the Univeristy of Aberdeen and the Macaulay Institute are attempting to map the distribution of Lyme disease across Scotland and understand the transmission cycle and the risks involved for users of the countryside. If you have had Lyme disease, please get in touch to fill in a short questionnaire, either by email to marianne.james@abdn.ac.uk or by post to Marianne James, School of Biological Sciences, Zoology Department, Tillydrone Avenue, Aberdeen AB24 2TZ.

For further info see: http://www.masta-travel-health.com/tickalert/prevention.html while the 1998 Mercat Press publication ‘Ticks: a Lay Guide to a Human Hazard’, by George Hendry and Darrel Ho-Yen, is still available, modestly-priced and fits easily into a rucksack.

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