People have been complaining about a tick plague on the island these past few weeks. We will show you what you can do to protect your family and pets from these little nasties.
“Lyme disease really ticks me off!” - Anonymous
If you live anywhere where there are forests and farmland, you’ve probably encountered a tick or two. Totally normal. But for one reason or another, this year has been particularly tick-heavy on the island.
In fact, we just returned from the groomer the other day, who informed us they had plucked about a dozen of them off our dogs. It was slightly shocking, as I am a bit OCD and brush our little Yorkies daily. Having low-hanging undercarriages means their tummies pick up a lot of stuff on every walk we go on, and most of it I’d prefer not to be dragged around our house.
So when we learned they were infested (OK, infested is probably a bit dramatic, but still!) with these vile critters, it made me want to go over them, our cat, my kid and my husband with fine tooth combs to make sure they weren’t anywhere else.
After giving everyone the all-clear, I was inspired to find out a bit more about ticks, how to avoid them, how to remove them, what risks and diseases they carry, that kind of thing. The following is what I found out. Hope it helps and comforts you as much as it did me!
Tick 101- The Basics/The Good #
Contrary to popular belief, ticks to do not live on their hosts, only close to them. They live primarily in tall grass and wooded areas, where there is an abundance of potential hosts, such as dogs, cats, deer, rodents, and, yes, humans, to attach themselves to. They feed on blood (gross!) and then detach themselves, only to start the process again when they’re hungry.
They prefer warm, humid places, but can adapt to any number of different environments. They are most active in spring and summer months. Happily, most prefer to live outdoors, so an indoor infestation is a rare occurrence. This means that whenever you, your children or pets are in potential tick zones, you can take the proper step to protect yourselves.
- The humans in the family should wear long pants and sleeves when walking in the woods, on farmland or in grassy areas. A shot of tick repellent on your clothes wouldn’t hurt either.
- For the animals, get a good tick prevention product from the vet and use it religiously as directed. A shot of pet-safe anti-tick spray when you are about to go out on walks adds another level of protection.
- After walks, check everyone for ticks. The faster they are removed, the better. They can be anywhere, so be thorough and look inside and behind ears, on clothing, on animal’s tails… you get the picture.
- To keep your home and garden free of ticks, a few simple things can help:
- remove leaves regularly,
- mow often,
- keep stacked wood in a dry place (discourages rodents who carry ticks),
- place outdoor furniture and playground equipment away from trees and the edge of the yard,
- fence the area to keep random animals from straying in,
- and finally, don’t act like a hillbilly and leave junk in your garden that could give ticks a hiding place.
Tick 102- The Bad #
You now have an idea of how to keep you and your loved ones safe, but what if, despite all the precautionary measures, someone gets bit. First of all, DON’T PANIC. It is estimated only 5% of tick bites result in catching the dreaded Lyme disease, and even fewer contract the more serious threat, tick-borne encephalitis (TBE). This is because a tick needs to remain attached for 36-48 hours before it can transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme, and as they are pretty itchy, you’ll usually be able to figure they are there long before there is danger.
The problem here is that dogs and cats scratch all the time, and kids don’t always tell you when they itch something off. You can’t always be there, so sometimes things happen.
There are tell-tale signs of a tick bite infection, though, so be on the lookout, even if it is weeks after the fact. On people, look for the hallmark bulls-eye rash. It’s a circular red mark that expands over time. More than one mark can appear, or none. If there are no marks, be alert for flu-like symptoms, including fever headache, and achy muscles. If you have even an inkling that it may be tick-related, get to the doctor ASAP for a blood test. Early treatment really makes a difference and is usually sorted in 2-4 weeks with antibiotics.
In animals, the symptoms are different. The most common are loss of appetite, fever, joint swelling or stiffness with an unusual back arch and intermittent lameness. Lymph glands near the site of the bite may also be swollen. A four-week course of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories normally does the trick, and again, early treatment is the best way to ensure no persistent or chronic side effects occur.
One other thing to note is that there is no preventative vaccine or medication, so that option is not open to us, yet.
Tick 103- The Ugly #
Now for worst case.
Let’s say you knew all of the above but have a raging fear of doctors and decided to forego medical help. After stating it’s a VERY bad idea, here is what you’ll need to know going forward.
Once a person has late-stage Lyme disease, it can take years to resolve. Moreover, around 60% of untreated Lyme patients will develop Lyme disease-related arthritis. Arthritic episodes last weeks to months, and recur at random, causing long-term disability and discomfort.
In animals, untreated Lyme’s can lead to kidney disease, which can lead to diminished quality of life, or in rare cases, death. They also run a risk, like humans, of recurring arthritis.
Bottom line: if you know or suspect you have Lyme, just go get it dealt with. It’s an easy treatment if caught early, but a real pain if left. Why put yourself or your loved ones through it?
As for tick-borne encephalitis, most people are asymptomatic, making it incredibly difficult to diagnose. Some will have flu-like symptoms, though, and a smaller number will develop a disease which attacks the brain and nervous system causing headache, high fever and sometimes paralysis. 1%-5% end in death.
The data is spotty on the number of cases in Spain as they do not have mandatory surveillance in place here, but WHO states that in does not currently exist in Spain, though with the first case being clocked in the UK recently, it seems the ticks are on the move. There is a vaccine against TBE, but is not widely used except in places where there is the greatest chances of contracting the disease, namely Scandinavia, China and Russia.
Bottom line: when it comes to ticks and tick-borne disease, the best prevention is protection. Just be aware and vigilant, and neither your family nor your furry friends will be exposed.
How to remove a tick
- Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface and head as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure.
- After removing the tick, clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
- Never crush a tick with your fingers. Seriously messy and pushes infection and blood further into the bite wound.
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By Stephanie Horsman
30 October, 2019