The charity Caudwell LymeCo brings us important information about ticks and Lyme Disease for mountain bikers.
Exercising outdoors is great for physical and mental health, but as we move into summer and further into peak tick season, this also increases our chances of coming across these eight-legged creatures.
We know that mountain bikers in the UK have been affected by ticks or Lyme disease, and that the subject has come up within the Singletrack forum on a number of occasions.
As a charity campaigning to raise awareness and educate on tick bite prevention, we’d like to share some information on Lyme disease in order to help cyclists enjoy the outdoors, safely. So whether you’re out on your bike, or heading out to walk or camp in the countryside, here’s what you need to know.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is an infection spread by tick bites, which attacks the nerves, joints, heart, brain, eyes and can cause a characteristic skin rash. It can be a debilitating illness that’s difficult to cure if not treated promptly. Latest research shows that there are could be around 9,000 cases a year in the UK – that’s 24 people a day catching the disease. But the true figure is thought to be much higher because of a lack of reliable testing and research.
Lyme disease is found all over the world, with the number of reported cases in the U.S at around 30,000. It can also be found in mainland Europe, being particularly prevalent in the Eastern region, so it makes sense to also be aware if you’re enjoying a cycling holiday aboard.
When and where to be aware of ticks
Ticks are most active from May to October, but are present all year round. They live in long grass, woodland, parks and even urban gardens, and climb on as you brush past, or sit on the ground.
Not all ticks carry Lyme disease, but if you are bitten by a tick, it’s important to know the signs to look out for. And of course, the best way to avoid catching Lyme disease is to avoid being bitten in the first place!
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Tips for protecting yourself from tick bites:
- Spray insect repellent on any exposed skin, and consider spraying your clothes with permethrin if you’re going camping or spending a long time outdoors. Any repellent containing DEET will work, but there are more natural brands like Incognito and Mosi-guard that also effective.
- Stick to well-maintained pathways or cycle routes where possible – try to avoid riding through overgrown cycle paths.
- Tuck in your clothing! If out walking as opposed to cycling, tuck your t-shirts into trousers, trousers into socks, and so on. It’s not the most attractive of looks, but it blocks the tick’s route of entry!
- Try to wear light-coloured clothing, so you can spot any ticks on you.
- When you get home, pop your clothes on a hot wash
Where to look for ticks and how to correctly remove them
Check yourselves for ticks as soon as you return home, or every four hours if you’re out all day. They can be as tiny as a poppy seed and you won’t feel a tick crawl on you, or bite you.
They like warm crevices, so be sure to check your belly button, groin area, armpits and between your toes or behind your knees. Get someone to check places you can’t see, like your hairline and neck (popular spots for children to be bitten).
If you find a tick attached, remove it immediately with a tick removal tool (you can buy them on Amazon for a few quid), or a pair of pointed tweezers – not flat. Lift straight upwards, pulling firmly and steadily. NEVER squeeze the tick’s body. Disinfect the bite area and wash your hands. Try to remove all of the tick if possible, but certainly the body.
Ignore old wives’ tails about rubbing oil, alcohol or Vaseline on the tick, or burning it. This may cause it to become distressed and vomit potentially Lyme-infected bacteria into your body.
Don’t forget to check your pets too!
Signs and symptoms to look out for
Lyme disease is often called the ‘great imitator’, as its symptoms are similar to a lot of other illnesses.
Initial symptoms are flu-like, with fevers, headache and stiff neck. You may also develop a bull’s eye type rash (pictured). This symptom is characteristic of Lyme disease but only around two-thirds of people get it. It doesn’t have to be a super clear bull’s eye – it’s generally flat, red, non-itchy and spreads outwards over a number of days.
If you do get the rash, your doctor should diagnose Lyme and treat you on that basis alone, without a blood test. This is in accordance with NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excelence) Guideline recommendation.
Other symptoms include nerve pain, tingling or numbness, fatigue, cognitive issues and muscle and joint pain. Symptoms can take anywhere from 3 days to 3 months to appear, but usually start to develop within a week of the bite.
If you develop a rash or symptoms above and think you could have been bitten by a tick (even if you didn’t spot one), see your doctor who can prescribe a course or two of antibiotics to rid of the infection.
If you would like any further information on Lyme disease, please visit the Caudwell LymeCo website. We are a charity which raises funds for Lyme disease research, campaigns for awareness, and provides information and advice to the public.
We also run a patient helpdesk service for those who are looking for information and support in navigating the NICE Guideline for Lyme disease.
- For more info on symptoms, keeping your family safe from ticks etc: https://caudwelllyme.com/lymediseaseinfo/
- For more information on how to remove a tick safely, and removal tools – https://caudwelllyme.com/how-to-remove-a-tick-safely/
- NICE Guideline for Lyme disease – information on NHS diagnosis and treatment – https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng95
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