Learn how to protect against and remove ticks to keep you and your family free from Lyme disease
Today, (Wednesday, 10th May 2023), is Tick Awareness Day and the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) has some practical advice on how to protect yourself against ticks, whose bite can cause Lyme disease.
Advising people to be aware over the coming months, Dr Paul McKeown, Specialist in Public Health Medicine, HSE HPSC said: “People are more likely to spend time outdoors in the spring and summer months. Anyone who spends time outdoors should protect themselves against tick bites. This includes ramblers, campers, mountain bikers, people who work or walk in woodland, parkland and heathland, especially in grassy areas. Preventing tick bites prevents Lyme disease.”
Ticks are present everywhere in Ireland, including both urban and rural areas and are active from spring to autumn. They are tiny spider-like creatures that feed on the blood of humans, animals and birds, and are more numerous and more active in the summer months. “From April onwards is the time when we expect to see cases of Lyme disease most frequently in Ireland, because this is when ticks are most plentiful,” explained Dr McKeown.
Tick bites can be prevented by:
- Wearing long trousers, long sleeved shirt and shoes
- Wearing a hat and tuck in hair
- Using an insect repellent (preferably containing the active ingredient DEET)
- Checking skin, hair and warm skin folds (especially the neck and scalp of children) for ticks, after a day out
- Checking for ticks and removing any from your pets/ clothing/ outdoor gear
- Removing any ticks and consulting with a GP if symptoms develop.
Ticks will bite adult humans most commonly on the legs and also the arms. But they can bite on any part of the body, especially warm and sweaty parts of the body not covered by clothing. In children, ticks are most likely to bite around the head and neck. These are the areas to cover up and protect. These are also the areas to check following time spent outdoors. You can even check yourself and your children during the day.
Most cases of Lyme disease are very mild and many infected people may not have symptoms. The most common sign of infection is a skin rash (known as Bullseye rash or erythema migrans). In a small number of cases however, the infection can be more severe, leading to serious nervous system, heart and joint disease.
“Anyone who develops a rash or other symptoms should visit their GP and explain that they have been bitten by a tick. If you think you may have been bitten by a tick and you develop a skin rash speak to your GP. Your GP may prescribe antibiotics if it is likely to be Lyme disease, which will clear the infection,” said Dr McKeown.
Pictures of the Lyme disease skin rash can be found on the HSE website.
How to remove a tick
A minority of ticks can carry Lyme disease. If a tick is removed within the first number of hours, the risk of infection is very low. The entire tick, including its mouthparts which might break off, should be removed with a tweezers by gripping it close to the skin. The skin where the tick was found should then be washed with soap and water and the area checked over the next few weeks for swelling or redness.
You can see instructions on how to remove a tick on the HSE website https://www2.hse.ie/conditions/lyme-disease/
Cases of a more severe form of Lyme disease – neuroborreliosis – have to be reported to HPSC by doctors and laboratories in Ireland. There are approximately 10-20 cases of neuroborreliosis notified in Ireland each year. However, as some people will not be aware that they are infected, or will not seek medical help when unwell, the true number of Lyme disease cases is not known. It is likely that there are at least 200 cases of the milder forms of Lyme disease in Ireland annually.
People can find lots of information and resources about Lyme disease on the HPSC website.
Last updated on: 09 / 05 / 2023