Whether you’re tidying up the garden before winter kicks in, or sorting it out ready for spring, keep an eye out for ticks which, if infected, can cause Lyme disease.
You don’t need a sprawling rural garden to be at risk of Lyme disease, as ticks – tiny blood-sucking parasites (the size of a full stop on an A4 page) – are found across the country, including urban areas such as London parks and gardens. From pulling up bracken to cutting long grass, clearing dead leaves or just standing still, there are many situations where you could find yourself being vulnerable to ticks.
Stella Huyshe Shires, Chair of the charity Lyme Disease Action, contracted Lyme disease whilst working in her garden in Devon in 1999. She says, “Whilst we don’t want to put anyone off enjoying the garden, it’s important for all gardeners to be aware of ticks. This includes knowing how to prevent being bitten by ticks, how to remove ticks properly and how to recognise the symptoms because, if diagnosed early, Lyme disease can be treated with a course of antibiotics.”
Lyme disease causes a range of unpleasant symptoms which may include a circular red rash, headaches, a stiff neck, extreme fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and disturbances of sight, hearing, digestive system and sleep. If left untreated it can progress to the joints, the heart and the nervous system.
To reduce the risk of being bitten by an infected tick, Lyme Disease Action advises gardeners to take the following precautions:
- Where possible, wear gloves, long sleeves and trousers when gardening
- Ensure you brush your clothing off before going inside
- Use an insect repellent effective against ticks (look for those containing the chemical DEET)
- Check for ticks regularly during the day and very carefully when you wash
- Remove any ticks found attached as soon as possible
Ticks should be removed immediately with a tick removal tool. Do not try to pull the tick out with your fingers, burn the tick or cover it with creams or chemicals. If you don’t have a tick removal tool, use a thread of cotton wound round close to the skin and pull upwards or, alternatively, cut a slit in a plastic card and slide that under the tick’s body.
If you have been bitten by a tick and notice any of the above symptoms, seek medical help straight away. Diagnosed and treated early, Lyme disease can be treated successfully with antibiotics. NB tick bites do not itch like mosquito bites, so awareness is important to aid diagnosis.
Lyme Disease Action (www.lymediseaseaction.org.uk) is a charity striving for greater awareness of Lyme disease and associated tick-borne diseases.
Ends 14 November 2011