SWAN notes

So much for my trying to be efficient! I was taking some time off work last week so had written this column a few days earlier than I usually do. Unfortunately something happened when I emailed it and it never went anywhere or it is lost in cyber-space somewhere! Thankfully Pat stepped in and wrote the column for two weeks running.

Anyway I have just re-jigged the column I wrote very slightly and am using it this week.

The last week of March this year was Tick Bite Prevention Week 2012. As nearly everyone will go somewhere where animals will be or have been present, it was worth mentioning in this column. Many people have not heard of ticks and do not realise the risks from the various diseases, including Lyme disease, that they carry.

Ticks are small parasites on the blood of various animals and sometimes people. They do not have wings and cannot jump. They travel by walking on the ground and up plants or are transported by birds and animals. They then wait for a host, an animal or person to pass by. When the host comes near, they drop onto it or hook onto it with special hooks on their legs. Some types of tick live in the burrows or nests of animals and birds. Ticks vary in colour and in size, depending on the type of tick, whether it is male or female, and whether it is a juvenile or an adult. The tick’s colour and size also depends on whether it has fed or not. Many people think of them as quite big, but this is because they are used to seeing a balloon-like tick on a dog or cat once it has had its fill from its host.

There is no need to panic about ticks but an awareness of their presence, simple precautions that can be taken against their bites, and how to remove them safely, is key to avoiding contracting tick-borne diseases. Here are ten tips from survival expert Ray Mears:

1. Know where to expect ticks. Many areas in the UK with good ground cover and diverse wildlife (such as squirrels, hedgehogs, birds and deer) can pose a potential risk as wildlife feeds any ticks and allows their population to increase. Animals also transport ticks to new areas.

2. Use a repellent, reading the instructions carefully. There is currently no vaccine to defend against Lyme disease.

3. Carry a tick remover. By having a tick remover (and antiseptic wipes) with you, any attached ticks can be removed sooner, lessening the chance of disease transmission.

4. Tuck your trouser legs into your socks. This helps to deter ticks from crawling inside your trouser legs, down into shoes and through most socks. Wearing gaiters will also help. Light-coloured clothing makes it easier to see ticks on it.

5. Take a walking stick. Where you can’t keep to the centre of paths to avoid ticks on overhanging vegetation, you can use a stick to tap vegetation ahead of you, knocking off waiting ticks.

6. Check your body carefully all over for ticks after being outdoors.

7. Don’t bring ticks home. Check clothing and pets for ticks.

8. Carefully remove ticks. Use a specialist tick-removal tool or fine-tipped tweezers.

9. Protect your pets. Talk to your vet about tick treatments.

10. Be a ‘Tick Buddy’. You can help your companions by checking for ticks in places they can’t see – back of the head and behind ears.

Tick awareness is very important and it does not take much work to keep yourself as safe as possible. Tick removers are often available from camping and outdoor shops.