Walking in the great outdoors has many health benefits, physical and mental, and is widely promoted as part of a healthy lifestyle. One of the small risks of walking in the countryside is the chance of being bitten by a tick. Here we uncover the truth about ticks, Lyme Disease and the precautions you can take to keep yourself (and your dogs) safe.
What is a tick?
Ticks are small, blood-sucking arthropods and look just like a tiny spider. There are many different species of tick living in Britain, each preferring to feed on the blood of different animal hosts. The one most likely to bite humans in Britain is the sheep tick, but you may also come across deer ticks, hedgehog ticks and fox ticks. Despite their names, all ticks will actually take blood from a wide range of mammals and birds. Juvenile ticks can be as small as a pin head, while adult female ticks can be up to 5mm across (and the size of a pea when full after a meal).
How do ticks feed?
When ready for a meal, a tick will climb up a nearby piece of vegetation and wait for a passing animal or human to catch their hooked front legs. They then walk around the mammal looking for a suitable place to bite to suck blood. The bite is usually painless and most people will only know they have been bitten if they happen to see a feeding tick attached to them. If left undisturbed, a tick will feed for around 5 to 7 days (slowly swelling) before letting go and dropping off. Adults are most often bitten around the legs. Small children are generally bitten above the waist, including in the scalp and hairline.
Where are ticks found?
Ticks are present across the whole of the UK and live in areas with dense vegetation that retains humidity, including deciduous and coniferous woodland, heathland, moorland, rough pasture, forests and urban parks (they are even found in London’s Royal Parks)...so all our favourite walking places then. Cold temperatures reduce tick activity, so ticks are most active from April to October. During warm winters and in certain areas of Britain, they are active all year round.
What are the health risks?
Some ticks carry Lyme Disease and they can inject the bacteria into you when they take a meal of blood. Symptoms may appear between 2 and 30 days after the bite and include: feeling unwell with flu-like symptoms; extreme fatigue; muscle, tendon or joint pain; muscle weakness; stiff neck; headache; disturbances of sight, hearing, digestive system or sleep; and a ‘Bull’s Eye’ rash (pictured). If you get a rash, photograph it for a record. Lyme Disease is treatable with antibiotics, but the sooner the better so don’t ignore the symptoms.
Are ticks a problem for dogs too?
Yes. Dogs by their nature tend to walk through more undergrowth than us humans and also don’t wear protective clothing so they are more at risk of tick bites. If you are treating your dog with a topical pesticide for fleas, don’t assume that this treats ticks as well. Very few treatments are capable of stopping all tick bites so check your dog regularly (including armpits, ears and gums) and remove any ticks with a specially designed tick fork (see below). If you know you are going walking somewhere with high risk of tick bites (e.g. sheep pastures), then consider using a natural repellent that day to supplement any longer-term veterinary treatment. I mix a few drops of tea tree oil in an egg cup of water and rub this all over the dog’s coat and have found that this works well as an extra prevention method.
What should I do to stay safe?
There are several things you can do to help prevent being bitten and also to deal with any bites you do get as safely as possible:
1) Try to prevent access to your skin (particularly on the lower half of your body) while out walking. Wear boots and shoes rather than sandals, wear long trousers rather than shorts and tuck your trousers in to your socks to keep your ankles safe.
2) Wear lighter coloured clothing so that any tick is easy to spot if one does hitch a ride.
3) Wherever possible avoid walking through thick vegetation, stick to the middle of wider paths.
4) If you are walking somewhere with a high risk of being bitten (e.g. sheep pastures), consider using a natural insect repellent like tea tree oil.
5) Check yourself for ticks whenever you have visited a place where they may have been present. Do this both immediately and for up to three days after any outdoor visit.
6) If you find a tick, remove it safely as soon as possible (see below for removal advice).
How do I remove a tick safely?
Removing a tick safely is key to avoiding the spread of disease and infection. Once a tick has bitten you or your dog, it will be firmly attached with its mouth parts buried under your skin. Your main aims are to remove all parts of the tick’s body and to prevent it releasing additional saliva or regurgitating its stomach contents into your bite wound. There are many myths about safe ways to remove ticks including suffocating them with Vaseline, burning them off or applying other chemicals – ALL of these methods are likely to cause discomfort to the tick, resulting in regurgitation and increasing your risk of infection.
The safest and easiest way is to use a proprietary tick removal tool, or ‘tick fork’, which is a genius little device in my opinion. It is cheap (just a few pounds) and available from many vets, pet shops and online (from Amazon via this link or at Lyme Disease Action via the link at the bottom of the page). I keep a set in the car, a set in my walking bag and one at home so I’m always prepared. Slide the fork over the tick and ‘unscrew’ it anticlockwise. After a few spins, the tick will easily lift away from the skin. If no tools are available, rather than delay use a cotton thread. Tie a single loop of cotton around the tick’s mouthparts, as close to the skin as possible, then pull gently upwards and outwards. Flush the tick away, cleanse the bite wound (and the forks) with antiseptic and wash your hands thoroughly. Make a note of the date you were bitten in case you notice symptoms later.
Remember, the health benefits of walking easily outweigh the risks and a few sensible precautions are all it takes to reduce your risk of being bitten by a tick. Don’t be put off the countryside, but be aware and be prepared. If you would like to learn more about ticks and Lyme Disease visit http://www.lymediseaseaction.org.uk
17 July 2015
Google Play 2018
Best walking app I've used, the routes have always been better than expected. Not only are they picturesque, they are also easy to follow.
Google Play 2018
Loving this app. Initially had a few glitches but these all went away after a bit of tweaking the settings. I have used the app for 6 walks so far and have discovered lovely local walks that I would have never known about. The walk descriptions and directions have been really accurate. The live map has been helpful in checking that I haven't gone off course.
Newsletter Feedback 2018
Just completed my first walk using the @ifootpathuk app on my phone. A nice walk and we didn't get lost (as I have no sense of direction whatsoever that is high praise!) #hiking #Snowdonia #walking #adventure
Twitter Feedback 2018
Google Play Review 2018
Super fast help to sort out my problem. Well done and nice friendly reply as well.
Help Centre August 2018
Super fast help to sort out my problem. Well done and nice friendly reply as well.
iOS Appstore November 2017
Great App - never get lost! by The Parallax View Best couple of quid I’ve spent in a long time. Walks are well described & it’s easy to see if you’ve wandered off the mapped tracks via GPS. Degree of difficulty is useful too - can choose a 2 Welly, 5 mile walk with a pub at the end for a relaxing Sunday.
Email November 2017
Wow what a lovely experience it was using your app worked perfectly from the off for the first time found walks nearby we would have never found, brilliant work guys and gals.
This is a great app. Easy to use. Great selection of walks and very uncomplicated instructions, good simple maps. Other walking apps I have tried can be very confusing, this one is just right. Thank you
I used the app for the first time this afternoon. I lead regular ‘Walking for Health’. The app is terrific!
I do a lot of solo walking...so always worry about safety and getting lost.....not anymore I don't...!!!!! The guides are always spot on....and that's what I do.just follow the blue spot...!!! Thank you.... It's my favourite app...!!!!
My wife and I did your Petworth and Shimmings Valley walk yesterday. It was absolutely beautiful and enhanced by the wonderful weather. Your instructions were the clearest I have ever used for walking.
Without doubt the best app that I have ever downloaded! - NT
This App is brilliant. It enables you to track your walks and download them for future reference. The Library provides you with a variety of walks and are supported by clear instructions and photographs along the route. This makes them very easy to follow. I have used the App for about two years and have found it invaluable. Should you have any queries about any aspect of iFootpath the support you get is second to none.
Absolutely beautiful walk, and a wonderful app. Thank you so much :)
I want to congratulate you on your web site/app performance, quick, reliable and easy to use. I have similar walking apps with OS Maps and ViewRanger but yours is best.
This app has totally changed my life, i absolutely love it. I did this walk yesterday, what a beautiful walk it is, i thoroughly enjoyed it and would definitely do it again, in fact i met an older gentleman who was on his 100 and something time there!! My sister and daughter cant wait to come along. The noise mentioned about the motorway is negligible and for me did not detract from the overall walk at all, the view from the top was stunning!!
So far I have downloaded 5 walks and completed 3 of them, tomorrow will be No 4. I love your website The walk descriptions are the best I have used in the last six years of rambling since I retired. This is a website I would be more than happy to pay a subscription for, instead I'll donate a sum to my favourite charity. THANK YOU.
Have deleted Pokemon Go and downloaded @ifootpathuk which is much more 'me'
I love the illustrated descriptions of each walk section. Really helps to enjoy the walk and get to know something about what I'm seeing. So much better than apps that only provide GPS co-ordinates and no photos or description. Love it!
After trying out numerous other apps I came across this one: way ahead of any of the others in every way. Much more accurate and very easy to use with great features. Would highly recommend it as THE app to use for walking.
Just wonderful, with walks for everyone: the fit, the not-so-fit, short walks, long walks, through woods, up hills (and down).
I highly recommend it, as my mum and I use it to go for walks and finish by eating at a pub. Its detailed and sometimes humorous instructions lead us easily to our destination. Also, to top this, it has interesting facts about the area we're walking in
I don't review much but this app deserves it. Downloaded some really good walks and the combination of the good descriptions and the really useful map of the walk showing where you are make it a brilliant tool. Well done and keep up the good work.
Very enjoyable and well described route. Views over the river from the warren were stunning.
Fantastic walk and amazing views. Great directions though I followed the GPS map mainly
Great walk, instructions were very detailed, perfect!
This may be the best walk I've ever done. It was certainly the best directions.
Even on a cold windy day with it trying to snow this was still an excellent walk. We managed it with our 2 children of 5 yrs and one in a all terain pram (a defo no no with a normal pram). Will be doing this one again in the summer.
Used app while visiting (it was great!)--live in Texas. Thanks!
Your app and walks are a dream to use
Did this walk this morning with our three little girls and we all love it. Great day outdoor!