Ticked off

Especially during spring and summer, it is important to be aware of ticks as you enjoy the great outdoors. In this article I discuss things you can do to avoid getting tick bites and how to recognise the signs and symptoms of Lyme Disease and Tick-Borne Encephalitis (TBE)

Ticks are small arachnids, related to spiders and mites. As parasites, they survive by attaching themselves to larger animals and feeding on their blood. Numerous species of tick are found in the UK, with some carrying harmful bacteria that can spread disease to humans. If you are bitten, the tick will look like a small dark protrusion on your skin. The size can vary but are often no larger than a sesame seed and after feeding on blood they can swell to the size of a coffee bean.  

Ticks live in many outdoor environments but are particularly common in areas of grassland, heathland and woodland. Therefore hikers, cyclists, campers and even gardeners are particularly at risk, here are some things you can do to help you to avoid tick bites.

  • Consider wearing clothing that covers your skin, making it more difficult for ticks to bite.
  • Tuck your trousers into your socks!
  • Keep to footpaths and avoid walking through dense vegetation.
  • Consider using insect repellent containing DEET. 
  • Consider wearing light coloured clothing, this will mean that you can easily spot ticks and brush them off.
  • After spending time in the outdoors, you should check yourself and your clothing as well as your pets and others for ticks. 
  • Remove any attached tick as soon as you find it using a tick-removal tool or fine-tipped tweezers. Clean the bite with antiseptic or soap and water.

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is an infection transmitted by some species of tick. The disease can be acquired when bitten by an infected tick, but it is important to stress that not all ticks are infected and the majority of tick bites will not cause Lyme disease.

The most common symptom is a spreading, bullseye rash at the site of the tick bite which typically develops 3 to 30 days after being bitten. This occurs in approximately two thirds of infected people. Other symptoms include a non-specific flu-like illness, a facial droop, nerve pains and numbness or tingling in the hands or feet.

Most patients treated in the later stages of infection respond very well to antibiotics, although some may have long-term damage to their joints or the nervous system.

Checking yourself for ticks after being in green outdoor spaces where ticks may be present is very important. Prompt tick removal can reduce your chances of acquiring Lyme disease and rapid recognition of symptoms will ensure that you receive the earliest diagnosis and treatment from your GP. If you have a classic bullseye rash, then you can be treated for Lyme disease without the need for a test but if you had a recent tick exposure and symptoms of Lyme disease, a blood test will be required.

Tick Borne Encephalitis (TBE)

TBE is a viral infection that spreads through tick bites. Although it is common in many parts of the world, including mainland Europe, ticks carrying TBE have also been found in the UK for the first time.

TBE causes a range of diseases, from completely asymptomatic infection to mild flu-like illness, to severe infection in the central nervous system such as meningitis or encephalitis (swelling of the brain).

Symptoms of encephalitis can include a high fever with a headache, neck stiffness, confusion, seizures or fits, reduced or loss of consciousness.


Most tick bites are harmless, but a small proportion of ticks carry Lyme disease, therefore it is important to be aware of the symptoms. Many people with early symptoms of Lyme disease develop a circular red bullseye rash around the site of a tick bite. However, not everyone gets a rash and you should also watch out for a flu-like illness, with fever, headache, tiredness and general aches and pains. 

Rember not all ticks carry the bacteria that cause Lyme Disease but If you are bitten by a tick and experience any of these symptoms, you should seek medical assistance as soon as possible.