Beastie burden – those tiny ticks can carry a nasty disease

Harry McQuillan is the chief executive of Community Pharmacy Scotland.
Harry McQuillan is the chief executive of Community Pharmacy Scotland.
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Picture the scene: you’ve just been on a lovely walk one summer’s evening in the local woods and a field with the family dog, you’ve worn shorts and a t-shirt and have enjoyed one of those warm sunny spells that we sometimes get in between the relentless wind and rain. You go home and put your feet up with a cuppa, perhaps put the tv on before heading up to bed for the night.

What’s missing from this story?

Unfortunately, following a rise in bites in Scotland over the past few years, you and your family should be routinely checking for ticks when you’ve been out in the countryside, especially if you’ve been wearing short clothing or have been in long grass or wooded areas.

Beyond being nasty wee blood-sucking beasties, there is a serious reason for keeping a sharp eye out for ticks hanging on to you and that is because a small proportion of them carry Lyme disease.

Lyme disease, or Lyme Borreliosis (its clinical name), is a disease which is carried by ticks and which can be transferred to humans following a tick bite.

Young ‘nymph’ ticks are the most likely to carry the disease and they can be the size of the full-stop at the end of this sentence, so they aren’t always very easy to spot. It is particularly important to be aware of the risks associated with tick bites, as there have been rising incidences of Lyme disease reported in Scotland.

Whilst relatively rare, this can feel like a bad case of the flu in the days after a bite, but it can leave those infected with serious long-term health issues, such as joint ­swelling, extreme tiredness and memory ­problems if not caught early and treated.

All rural areas of Scotland have ticks which carry the disease and you are particularly at risk in areas where sheep or deer live, as they often carry ticks. As with many things in life, the best defence is a good offence which means knowing how to protect yourself from ticks in the first place.

Generally speaking, wearing long loose clothing and using an insect repellent containing DEET is the best way to avoid ticks, along with sticking to established paths and being aware that our four-legged friends will often bring ticks home with them.

Finding a tick can be a bit alarming, but fortunately they can be easily detached with a tick removal device, which are widely available.

Your local community pharmacy will be able to advise you on what to do next if you have been bitten, such as keeping an eye on your skin around the bite for signs of infection.

The key to treating Lyme disease is to catch it early and if you are diagnosed by your GP they will prescribe a short course of antibiotics, which is often sufficient to stop the infection in its tracks.

Community Pharmacy Scotland has been engaging in a national Lyme disease working group to develop best practice in Scotland, to better understand the disease and how to prevent it and raise awareness on this issue.

Community pharmacists are trained in understanding how to deal with tick bites and are easily accessible if you have any concerns – so you don’t have to worry while you wait on an appointment!

Harry McQuillan is the chief executive of Community ­Pharmacy Scotland.