Top tips to defend against tick attachment and disease transmission
- 1. Know where to expect ticks
- 2. Use a repellent
- 3. Dress to deter ticks
- 4. Take a walking stick with you
- 5. Do the tick check
- 6. Carry a tick remover or fine-pointed tweezers
- 7. Dispose of ticks safely
- 8. Don’t bring ticks home
- 9. Protect your pets
- 10. Deter ticks from your garden
1. Know where to expect ticks
Many rural and urbanised areas in the UK and Ireland can pose a potential risk. Ticks need high levels of humidity to complete their life cycle. Areas of dense vegetation, such as long grass or bracken, woodland, and overgrown shrubs and ground-cover plants in gardens can provide this. Visiting wildlife (such as squirrels, hedgehogs, birds and deer) provide the necessary blood feeds for tick survival and this can assist a local tick population to increase. Animals can also transport ticks to new areas.
2. Use a repellent
There is currently no vaccine to defend against Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections in the UK and Ireland, so prevention is key. Remember to re-apply repellents regularly when the weather is humid or if you are swimming. Sunscreen should be applied before any repellent.
Deet-based repellents are effective against ticks. Confine application to small areas of the arms, legs, and neck, as treatment over large areas can cause toxicity, especially in children. DEET-based repellents are not suitable for children under 2-3 years of age and must not be applied to clothing or other materials.
Permethrin can be applied to clothing and equipment such as tents, sleeping bags or rucksacks. Do not apply this chemical directly to the skin and allow clothing to dry thoroughly before wearing (N.B. Permethrin is highly toxic to cats. Make sure they do not come into contact with treated clothing).
You don’t have to use a chemical repellent for it to be effective. Some natural repellents (e.g. lemon eucalyptus oil) are effective against ticks and safe to use on young children. Repellents are available from BADA-UK and various outlets such as chemists or outdoor shops.
3. Dress to deter ticks
Wearing gaiters or tucking long trousers into socks can help to deter tick from getting access to your legs and feet. Choosing clothes with elastic or drawstrings at the waist, wrist, and ankle will help deter ticks from crawling inside and attaching. Clothing made from smooth or waxed material is hard for ticks to climb, and light-coloured fabrics make them easier to see. Light-weight clothing to help you keep cool while protected is available from many outdoor pursuits retailers.
4. Take a walking stick with you
Where you can’t keep to the centre of paths to avoid ticks on overhanging vegetation, you can use a stick to tap the vegetation ahead of you, knocking off any waiting ticks.
5. Do the tick check!
When you are out for the day, a quick inspection for ticks on clothing and exposed areas of skin can help to detect ticks before they have attached or soon after.
You can help your companions by being a ‘tick buddy’ and checking for ticks in places they can’t see, such as the back of the head, hairline and behind their ears.
After being outdoors, take special care to inspect all over the body; during a bath or shower is a good time to check. Favourite places for ticks to attach include the belly button, groin, underarms, behind the knee and areas where clothing presses (such as the waistband and under watch straps). It helps to use a mirror to check areas that are hard to see.
6. Carry a tick remover or fine-pointed tweezers
By having a tick remover (and antiseptic wipes) with you, any attached ticks can be removed sooner, lessening the chance of disease transmission. Specialist tick removers are available from BADA-UK or from some veterinary surgeries and chain pet stores. There are many myths and old wives’ tales about tick removal which can potentially increase the risk of disease transmission. Make sure you are familiar with up-to-date advice on correct tick-removal techniques.
7. Dispose of ticks safely
Once you have removed a tick, you may want to show it to a doctor or vet if the person or animal it was attached to becomes ill. Being certain that a tick bite has occurred can help the doctor or vet to make a diagnosis. As it can take some time for symptoms to appear, the best way to keep a tick is in a plastic zip-lock bag (with a note of the date it was removed written in pencil) and place it in the freezer.
The best way to dispose of a tick is to place it in a tissue and squash it. Then flush the tissue away or dispose of it in the dustbin. Do not handle a tick with bare hands as certain organisms in the tick’s saliva or gut contents may enter through breaks in the skin, or the mucous membranes of your eyes, nose, or mouth if you touch them. Do not release a tick once it has been removed as it may survive to lay lots of eggs or bite another person or animal.
8. Don’t bring ticks home
Check clothing and pets for ticks to avoid bringing them inside. Ticks are very intolerant to being dried out so clothing can be treated in a tumble dryer to kill any ticks that remain hidden (make sure you check laundry instructions before putting items in the dryer) . Tests have demonstrated that ticks can survive a full cycle in the washing machine and short periods in a dryer, so prolonged periods of drying may be necessary.
Pet accessories (such as dog coats and beds) and soft furnishings may be treated against ticks and fleas. However, certain products can be harmful to certain pets such as cats or fish. Pyrethrum-based products are highly toxic to cats and should not be used in households where cats are present. It is always best to discuss tick and flea control with your vet, and always follow the manufacturers’ instructions to avoid accidental poisoning of your pets.
9. Protect your pets
Tick-control products that are “spot on” or “spray on” are available but are not suitable for all types of animal. Talk to your vet about which control method is suitable for your particular pet. For further information see our Pet Tick Prevention page.