What every trail runner should know about ticks and Lyme Disease

With cases of the serious illness on the rise, runners need to be cautious

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The summer months are peak season for Lyme Disease-carrying ticks and, during this heatwave, runners tend to wear the minimal clothing, which means more skin is exposed to them. Trail runners, in particular, need to be aware of the risk, given the areas  they run. Here's some information from the charity Lyme Disease Awareness.

Caused by the bite of an infected tick, Lyme disease is found across the UK, in city parks (such as Richmond Park in suburban London) as well as in rural areas. Carried by deer, small mammals and birds, ticks (whose population peaks from April to October) are able to sense a passing potential blood donor by picking up the carbon dioxide that humans exhale. They hook their legs onto clothing or skin and hide in warm, dark corners of the body. Tiny – the size of a full-stop – ticks can easily go undetected and their bite does not cause irritation, because they inject their host with an anaesthetic.

Lyme disease causes a range of unpleasant symptoms which may include a circular red rash, headaches, a stiff neck, extreme fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and disturbances of sight, hearing, digestive system and sleep. If left untreated it can progress to the joints, the heart and the nervous system.

There’s no need to be afraid – it’s more a case of being aware; knowing how to reduce the chances of being bitten, how to remove a tick and knowing what to look out for in the way of symptoms.

To reduce the risk of being bitten by an infected tick, Lyme Disease Action advises runners to take the following precautions:
• Try to avoid running through areas of long grass or bracken
• Ensure you brush your clothing and bare skin off before going indoors
• Use an insect-repellent effective against ticks (look for those containing the chemical DEET)
• Check for ticks regularly and very carefully when you wash or shower after a run
• Remove any ticks found attached as soon as possible

Tick removal
Ticks should be removed immediately with a tick removal tool. Do not try to pull the tick out with your fingers, burn the tick or cover it with creams or chemicals. If you don’t have a tick removal tool, use a thread of cotton wound round close to the skin and pull upwards or, alternatively, cut a slit in a plastic card and slide that under the tick’s body. This reduces the risk of squashing the tick’s body and the tick regurgitating the (potentially infected) contents of its stomach directly into the bloodstream of the host (the human).

Treatment
If you have been bitten by a tick and notice any of the above symptoms, seek medical help straight away. Diagnosed and treated early, Lyme disease can be treated successfully with antibiotics. Note that tick bites do not itch like mosquito bites, so awareness is important to aid diagnosis.

Much more information is available on the Lyme Disease Action website. Lyme Disease Action is a charity striving for greater awareness of Lyme disease and associated tick-borne diseases.