Tick Talk - Bursting the urban myths

September 2016

IOSH Rural Industries Group (RIG) group recently attended the APF 2016 show held at the Ragley Estate in Alcester, Staffordshire.

The aim was to increase awareness of Lyme Disease and other tick-borne diseases amongst people who work outdoors, including employees or self-employed people involved in forestry, arboriculture, farming, horticulture, education and training, parks and estates, environment and river management, etc, as well as gardeners, the general public and volunteers.

The IOSH stand* was part of the ‘Safety Arena’ at this biannual Show, which runs for three days and is the UK’s largest forestry, woodland, arboriculture, trees and timber event. It attracts people not just from the forestry, woodland and tree care industries but also estates and fencing and this year was also of significant interest to the farming industry.

Members of RIG, the Forestry Commission, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) industry training organisations and others worked in partnership to enable the running of the stand over the three days. HSE focussed on health issues and noise and vibration in particular. RIG supported the health theme by promoting the IOSH ‘No Time To Lose’ campaign as well as the risk from Lyme Disease.

Lyme Disease can be transmitted to humans through a tick bite – a small spider-like insect that attaches itself to the surface of skin and feeds on blood. It can have serious effects and cause arthritis if left untreated, so this complimented the ‘health and wellbeing’ theme.

Signs and symptoms of Lyme disease

Many people with early-stage Lyme disease develop a distinctive circular rash at the site of the tick bite, usually between 3-30 days after being bitten, but around 1:3 won't develop this rash.

Some people with Lyme disease also experience flu-like symptoms in the early stages, such as tiredness (fatigue), muscle pain, joint pain, headaches, a high temperature (fever), chills and neck stiffness.

Tick bite

More serious Lyme disease symptoms may develop several weeks, months or even years later if Lyme disease is left untreated or is not treated early enough. These can include:

  • pain and swelling in the joints
  • problems affecting the nervous system (eg numbness and pain in limbs, facial paralysis, memory problems and difficulty concentrating)
  • heart problems (due to inflammation, heart block and heart failure)
  • inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) – which can cause a severe headache, a stiff neck and increased sensitivity to light

Some of these problems will get better slowly with treatment, although they can persist if treatment is started late. A few people with Lyme disease go on to develop long-term symptoms similar to those of fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome.

RIG Initiative

To raise awareness of Lyme Disease we promoted recently developed literature on current best practice for prevention and what to do if an embedded tick is found.

We also ran a quiz, with the prize of a “Tick Twister” - a simple tool for removing embedded ticks easily and efficiently - for anyone who got the correct answers.

tick twisterstick twisters

As IOSH stand organiser John Ireland said: “I personally have never failed to remove a tick using this type of tool and I pick up a high number of ticks at work - and play!”.

Members of IOSH/RIG based in the Highlands of Scotland are also working with the Rural Health and Wellbeing team at the University of the Highlands and Islands piloting novel tick and Lyme Disease awareness-raising materials until the end of October.

Information

There a range of websites and resources where you can learn more and access helpful downloads;

The communities involved in this project include those who are exposed for both recreational and occupational reasons in the Lochaber area, the Cairngorms National Park, Balloch and Highland-wide.

However, Lyme disease is obviously relevant to others across GB. In addition to the Scottish Highlands and Islands, people have caught the disease whilst working, on holiday or involved in outdoor activities in a wide range of destinations – from the Lake District and North York Moors, down to the New Forest, Thetford Forest and the South Downs and Exmoor. Anywhere that ticks are present is a potential risk area. They are even reported in suburban areas like Richmond Park, London.

Not all cases of Lyme disease are confirmed by laboratory testing either, and Public Health England (PHE) estimate that the overall number of Lyme disease cases occurring in England and Wales is likely to be between 2,000 and 3,000 a year - with at least 50% of infections acquired in the UK known to have been acquired in southern counties of England.

RIG’s new ‘Forestry Specialists Networking Forum’

Earlier in the year - at a meeting of RIG’s newly-formed ‘Forestry Specialists Networking Forum’ - we heard from Sarah Morton (Research Fellow at the University of the Highlands and Islands), that mapping and a mobile phone App is also being developed (in association with the European Space Agency) to indicate where ticks are being found and where there is a risk of Lyme Disease.

Tick Project – Your help needed

Your opinion could help build the case to develop the materials beyond the pilot area. Please help by completing the Check for Ticks survey.

If you do make use of these resources, we would be very grateful if you could let us know what you think by contacting John Ireland.

* With thanks to RIG Committee member John Ireland for organising our stand, and to IOSH for sponsoring our space in the marquee and for the tick removal tools that were given away as part of the competition.