A new tick species is spreading - THIS is what to do if you get bitten

9th Aug 18 | Lifestyle

Ticks can attach to any part of the human body, but they are often found in hard-to-see areas.

Tick removal with a tweezer

An invasive new tick species is causing concern after spreading across eastern parts of the US and finding its way, for the first time, into densely populated New York.

The Asian longhorned tick spreads a potentially deadly virus called severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome (SFTS) in its native home of Asia – a virus that kills 2% – 15% of its victims.

Longhorned ticks in the US haven’t yet been found with any human diseases, but experts are concerned that the variety could pose a threat in transmitting disease to livestock and wild animals.

One of the biggest worries about longhorn ticks is that scientists don’t know how the species spread to the United States, meaning it’s difficult to know how likely the threat is to European countries. It’s possible it may have entered the country on pets, horses, livestock or humans, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) says.

While the longhorned tick has the potential to pass on an assortment of nasty diseases to humans, the little suckers haven’t been spotted outside of temperate climates of east and central Asia, the Pacific Islands and the US yet.

Here in the UK though, there has been a surge in tick-borne infections like Lyme Disease, causing people to worry about bites when enjoying the warm summer weather.

So what should you do if you get bitten and how concerned should you be?

Why ticks bite

Ticks are tiny bugs that live in tall grass and wooded areas, and are about the size of a sesame seed. They require blood to complete most of their life cycles, and are happy to feed off both animals and humans.

It’s a myth that ticks jump, fly, or drop. Instead, they simply grab or crawl onto a host using their legs.

As they draw more blood from the body, ticks grow. At their largest, ticks can reach the size of a marble. A fully satiated tick that has been feeding for several days becomes engorged and can turn a greenish-blue colour.

Ticks will die eventually if they do not get a blood meal, but many species can survive a year or more without attaching themselves to a host.

Where do they bite?

Ticks favour warm and moist areas of the body, so they’ll try to find their way into your armpit, groin or hair. Once they’ve found a comfortable spot, they’ll bite into the skin and start extracting blood.

Unlike other bugs that bite, such as mosquitoes, ticks remain attached to your body after they bite you.

If you’ve been bitten, you’ll know because you’ll see the tick on your skin – the mouth will be under the skin, while the rest of its body will be left exposed. If left undisturbed, a tick can spend up to 10 days drawing blood from your body, before detaching itself and falling off.

Should I be worried about a tick bite?

Ticks feed on the blood of other animals, and if a larval tick picks up an infection from a small animal, when it next feeds on a human it can pass the infection on.

The longhorned variety hasn’t appeared to pose a significant threat to humans in the US, because none have been found there that carry human diseases, but they have been deadly in parts of Asia. For now, the longhorned tick poses the greatest threat to livestock in the US but, if you’re there, use precautions like repellents and check for ticks after walking through long grass or wooden areas. Symptons of a bite from a longhorned tick include joint pain, chills, muscle pain and gastrointestinal problems.

There are several diseases that can be caught from a domestic tick bite in Britain. Four examples are Lyme borreliosis or Lyme disease (which is by far the most common in the UK), Babesiosis, Anaplasmosis and Rickettsiosis.

The biggest threat that UK ticks pose is Lyme Disease, and there are an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 new cases each year in England and Wales. It’s bacterial infection that can be spread to humans by infected ticks, and it’s usually treatable with antibiotics if it’s diagnosed early. Neurological problems and joint pain can develop months or years later if it’s left untreated and, in the worst cases, it can be fatal.

That being said, most ticks do not carry diseases or serious health problems, but it is important to remove the tick as soon as you find it.

How can I remove a tick safely?

Ticks can be removed at home – there’s no need to seek urgent medical attention. The NHS advises using fine-tipped tweezers or a tick-removal tool – you can buy these from some pharmacies, vets and pet shops.

Use your tool of choice to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and slowly pull upwards, taking care not to squeeze or crush the tick – as this can spread infection.

Once you’ve removed the tick, dispose of it immediately and then clean the bite with antiseptic or soap and water.

When should I see a doctor?

The NHS says that the risk of getting ill is low, so you don’t need to do anything else unless you become unwell.

You should visit your GP if you’ve been bitten by a tick or visited an area in the past month where infected ticks are found (such as grassy and wooded areas in southern England and the Scottish Highlands) and you get flu-like symptoms such as feeling hot and shivery, headaches, aching muscles or feeling sick, or a circular red rash.

© Press Association 2018