How to protect your family from Lyme disease

How do I protect my family from Lyme disease?

The three keys to protecting  yourself are:

A: Prevent tick bites
B: Look for attached ticks
C: Remove ticks promptly

How do I prevent tick bites?

1 Wear clothes that cover your skin, especially your legs.

2 Tuck clothes in. Tuck trousers tightly into socks or boots.

3 Spray permethrin on your clothes (NOT your skin).
You can buy this from camping shops or online. Tick removal experts say this is far more effective than using any insect repellent on your skin. Some camping shops sell clothes impregnated with permethrin, which lasts up to 20 washes before needing to be re-treated.

4 After a walk in the countryside, throw your clothes into the tumble dryer for 30 minutes to kill any ticks that may be on them.
If a tick drops off in your house, it can hide for weeks, waiting to crawl onto its next meal.

5 Use a picnic cloth. Don’t sit directly on grass. 
It is not practical to spray insect repellent on your children every time they play outside, so give them a picnic blanket. Some British parks and gardens are infested with ticks.

6 Spray repellent containing DEET onto the skin.
Be thorough. Ticks crawl over skin coated in deet and bite the one part you missed. For children who may roll on grass, cover the back of the neck. Deet can be used safely on any part of the body except the face. 

7 Encourage your children to watch while you check your dog or cat for ticks.
Children should learn to recognise ticks, and to tell you if they spot one on the family pet or each other.

Download: Avoiding tick bites

How do I look for attached ticks?

You will not feel a tick bite you. You will usually only know you have been bitten if you examine your body and see a tick attached.

  • Lyme disease rashes usually do not hurt or itch.
  • People may react to tick saliva, and get a bite that is more likely to be itchy or raised. This reaction, if it does occur, isn’t Lyme disease.
  • However, you can get both a lyme disease rash and a tick bite reaction at the same time in around the same bite.

After your children have played in the garden, or with pets, examine their skin.

Ticks like warm, soft skin. They will walk long distances inside clothing until they find an area of skin they like. Their aim is to remain attached, feeding on blood, for as long as possible.

  • They like warm crevices including the belly button, groin area (including genitals), armpits and between your toes or behind your knees.
  • They like being under a snug waistband or bra strap.
  • Ticks near the hair line can easily be hidden.They sometimes bite behind the ears or on the back of the neck where they are hidden under hair.

However, they will attach anywhere if necessary.

Watch the following educational video, which tells you where to look on your body for ticks:

How do I remove an attached tick?

Visit web page How to remove a tick safely for instructions, including a video.

Dowload: tick bite first aid

FAQ on Lyme disease prevention

Where in the UK are ticks found?

Some areas in the UK have very high tick populations, but information on this is scanty and may be unreliable; it is safest to assume you could meet a tick in any region.

Where are ticks present?

Ticks climb to the tops of long grass or other leafy plants, around knee height, waiting for a passing warm-blooded creature to catch onto. Ticks cannot fly.

Their habitats include:

  • forests
  • leafy countryside
  • urban parks and gardens
  • They may be on the ground in some grass you decide to sit on.
  • Ticks love leaves, so promptly rake up leaves that fall in your garden.

Ticks’ natural hosts are the small mammals and birds which spend their time on the ground, such as mice and squirrels. Colonies of ticks can be found in any area where these animals are present.

Ticks can also remain attached to a pet and then detach in an urban park or garden, establishing a new colony.

When do ticks bite?

The tick breeding season begins in May, and you are at far greater risk of tick bites throughout the summer. However we have received reports of people who have been bitten by ticks in the autumn and spring, so our advice is to stay alert to the possible presence of ticks all year round.

What do ticks look like?

Ticks are arachnids (related to spiders). They have eight legs, and look like spiders with unusually large bodies. Ticks have four stages in their lifecycle.

Adult ticks tend to bite furry animals such as your dog or cat. Before feeding they are small and black or brown, but after feeding their abdomen bloats to the size of a pea or a baked bean, and turns a creamy white colour.

As a human, you would be more likely to be bitten by a nymph tick. They are tiny black or brown specs the size of a poppy seed. This girl has a tick attached behind her ear, near the hairline. You would have to look carefully to see that it isn’t just a freckle or a speck of dirt.

How long will ticks stay attached?

Ticks often remain attached for hours or days. Older medical papers sometimes state that ticks can only infect a person or animal if they remain attached for 24 hours or more, but there is now plenty of anecdotal evidence that they can infect people after being attached for 16 hours, or for shorter periods than this.

What should I do when camping?

Visit Camping checklist for Lyme disease prevention for advice on planning a safe camping trip.

Download: Camping checklist

How else can Lyme disease spread?

  • Tick bites: Lyme disease is transmitted by tick bites.
  • Congenital: Lyme disease may be transmitted from mothers to unborn babies, but more research is needed to clarify this.
    Link to further information: Lyme Disease in Pregnancy
  • Blood Transfusion: In theory Lyme disease could be transmitted via blood transfusion, but so far there has never been a recorded case of this actually happening.
    Link to source: CDC Lyme disease FAQ
  • You cannot catch Lyme disease from interaction with another person such as touching them, breathing near them, sharing food with them, looking after them while ill, or being at school with them.
  • There is no evidence that Lyme disease can be spread by kissing or sexual intercourse.
  • You cannot catch Lyme disease directly from dogs or cats. However, a tick feeding on a dog or cat could transfer onto a human. It is very important to protect your pets from ticks, for their sake and yours.

How will I know if I catch a tick borne disease?

Not all ticks transmit diseases. Only a minority of ticks in the UK carry Lyme disease.

Lyme disease symptoms may develop any time from 3 days to 3 months after being bitten by an infected tick. If you feel unwell or have flu-like symptoms after being bitten by a tick, this is cause for concern. Visit our page Lyme disease symptoms to recognise the warning signs.

You may have a reaction to a tick bite at the site of the bite, which develops in a few hours, which is not Lyme disease or another tick borne disease. This reaction is more likely to be itchy. This is a reaction to the tick and is not Lyme disease.

What other diseases can ticks carry?

  • Ticks in the UK: Ticks in the UK can carry Lyme disease, anaplasma and Q-fever. These can be very serious illnesses and can be difficult to cure.
  • Ticks abroad: Ticks in other countries may carry additional illnesses. Mediterranean Spotted Fever occurs in all Mediterranean regions and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever occurs in some parts of the United States; both of these infections can kill humans within a few hours. There are tick-borne relapsing fevers in Africa and, recently, in some parts of the Mediterranean as well. If you are bitten by a tick while on holiday and develop a rash or a fever, regard this as a medical emergency.

More information: Other tick-borne infections

DISCLAIMER: Caudwell LymeCo charity shares public domain  information, which it believes to be reliable, in good faith. It should never replace the advice of a qualified physician with a license to practise medicine. If you believe any information on this website to be incorrect, you are invited to contact the charity using the Contact page.