Article Types Article Ticks & How To Deal With Them

Ticks & How To Deal With Them


At some point most hill walkers are likely to have a close encounter with a tick. While a bite is generally harmless, it is possible that ticks carry and transmit diseases to humans. Stack the odds in your favour by knowing how to reduce the likelihood of a bite, and how to safely remove a tick.

What Are Ticks And Where Are They Found?

Ticks are small spider-like creatures that can range in size from smaller than a poppy seed to a pea, depending on the stage in its lifecycle and/or how engorged it is on blood. They are external parasites that live off the blood of birds and mammals, and will bite humans if they get the chance. Present in most parts of the country, they are most abundant in long grass, rough vegetation, bracken and woodland. Ticks may be present throughout the year but are particularly active between May and October and especially at times of warm weather.

What’s The Risk?

While a tick bite is itself generally harmless, they are capable of transmitting diseases to humans, some of which can be extremely debilitating and life-threatening. In the UK ticks can carry Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, Babesiosis, Bartonella and Tick Borne Encephalitis. Not all ticks carry disease, and simply being bitten by a tick does not mean you’ll contract it – swift and proper removal is key to minimising risk of infection.

How To Reduce The Likelihood Of Tick Bites

Prevention is better than cure, so where possible it’s a good idea to take steps to avoid being bitten in the first place. Ticks can attach themselves almost anywhere but prefer dark creases like the armpit, groin and back of the knee, and once embedded they will steadily engorge as they feed on your blood. To reduce the chance of being bitten:

  • Avoid unnecessary bushwacking and walk in the middle of paths.
  • Keep your arms and legs covered. Light coloured fabrics are useful since the ticks stand out.
  • Check clothes and skin frequently. Ideally do a buddy check every 3-4 hours. They’re large enough to be easily spotted in summer, but you need to look carefully in spring: they’ll be as small as the dot on this ‘i’.
  • Check that ticks are not brought home on clothes, pets and bouldering mats.
  • Check children carefully, especially along the hairline and scalp.

What To Do If A Tick Bites Me

Whilst irritating, most tick bites are essentially harmless. To remove ticks safely, remove them as soon as possible using a pair of fine-tipped tweezers or a tick removal tool. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull upwards slowly and firmly, as mouthparts left in the skin can cause infection. Clean the bite area with antibacterial wash/soap and water, and monitor it for several weeks for any changes.

Ticks & How To Deal With Them

Lyme Disease

The classic symptom of Lyme disease is a bull’s eye rash (erythema migrans) and shows up as a red ring of inflammation that gradually spreads out across the skin, often with a fading centre. It can appear from two to 40 days after infection; if you develop one, photograph it to show your doctor in case it disappears. Fewer than 50% of people with Lyme get this rash, and if left untreated a whole range of symptoms can develop, including a flu-like illness, facial palsy, viral-type meningitis, arthritic-like joint pains, nerve inflammation, disturbance of sensation or clumsiness of movement and encephalitis (swelling of the brain).

Head straight to your GP if you suspect you have Lyme disease. There is a blood test for Lyme but it’s acknowledged to have a very high rate of false negatives, so if your GP suspects Lyme, they should begin antibiotic treatment right away, without waiting on the results.

Tick Borne Encephalitis (TBE)

Tick borne encephalitis is a viral disease that attacks the nervous system and can result in serious meningitis, brain inflammation and death. TBE incubation time is 6-14 days and at first it can cause increased temperature, headaches, fever, a cough and sniffles. The second phase can lead to neck stiffness, severe headaches, photophobia, delirium and paralysis. There is no specific treatment.

Health officials say the risk of TBE is very low - only one person is confirmed to have been infected in England in 2022, but the tick species which carries the virus is widespread in the UK. Most people do not develop symptoms but swelling to the brain is possible. The UK Health Security Agency has recommended changes to testing in hospital so that any new cases can be picked up quickly.

If you don't already have tick remover tools, you can find a variety of options in the BMC Shop.