Lyme disease and the danger from tick bites is something which we’ve been communicating for almost 10 years now.
Each month we come across another news story which reminds us that the message still needs a lot more promotion. This month alone we’ve seen two important stories.
If you’re a fan of rugby you might well have seen the first one in which former England Captain Matt Dawson tells his story of what he though was simply a bite from a flea turning into a major health issue and ending in heart surgery, read more here
Lyme disease, also known as Lyme borreliosis, is an infectious disease caused by bacteria of the Borrelia type which is spread by ticks. The most common sign of infection is an expanding area of redness on the skin, known as erythema migrans, that begins at the site of a tick bite about a week after it has occurred.
In May 2013 a petition was handed to the Department of Health demanding better diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease. You may be aware of its existence but many are not but it can present an occupational risk which affects a range of professions and trades with up to 3,000 new cases being reported each year in the UK. Lyme disease has no vaccination and can be very damaging if left untreated severe fatigue, heart problems, nerve damage and headaches.
plus foragers, hikers, mountain bikers and so on
Lyme disease is spread to humans via ticks with heathland, rough grassland and woodland being the primary sources but you can still catch ticks whilst being in a garden – I removed one from my 4 year old boy just last week!
As we said, a vaccine doesn’t exist but you can reduce your chances of being bitten;
wear long sleeved trousers and shirts – even in warm weather;
If clothes are light in colour ticks can be more easily spotted and removed before they bite;
Give workers information so they can identify ticks, before they’ve fed they can be no bigger than poppy seeds, they don’t fly but they do crawl quickly after jumping onto you from a nearby branch or plant;
Get workers to check themselves after working in known tick zones (even in the harder to reach areas!);
If you are working in a known tick zone then clothes can be treated with permethrin based repellents which can kill ticks on contact. But, check first with staff and give them a choice allowing them to refer to their GP or pharmacist if required.
To minimize tick exposure, wear rubber boots and tuck pant legs into the boots so ticks have a hard time grabbing on, advise Mississippi State University experts. (Photo courtesy of Jerome Goddard. Used with permission.)
Perhaps the most important element of protecting your self is removing a tick correctly, we’ve summarised this below but you can also see this link for more information and to purchase a specialist tool if your staff are working in high risk areas; http://www.bada-uk.org/defence/removal/indextickremoval.php
Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull upwards with steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick as this may leave the mouth parts embedded or cause the tick to regurgitate infective fluids.
Remove any embedded mouth parts with tweezers or a sterilised needle.
Do not squeeze or crush the body of the tick, because its fluids (saliva and gut contents) may contain infective organisms.
Do not handle the tick with bare hands, because infective agents may enter through breaks in the skin, or through mucous membranes (if you touch eyes, nostrils or mouth).
After removing the tick, disinfect the bite site and wash hands with soap and water.
Save the tick for identification in case you become ill within several weeks. Write the date of the bite in pencil on a piece of paper and put it with the tick in a sealed plastic bag and store it in a freezer.
DO NOT use petroleum jelly, any liquid solutions, or freeze / burn the tick, as this will stimulate it to regurgitate its stomach contents, increasing the chance of infection.
Ensure that your staff are aware of the potential risk and know what to do. Not all ticks will carry the disease but these simple precautions (and a pair of special tweezers) will protect your staff from harm.