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Spotting & Removing TICKS + other irritating suckers

spotting & removing ticks + other irritating suckers - camping & hikingTicks are arachnids that feed on blood, unlike fleas they’re not particularly fussy on whose blood either so will happily attach to whichever tasty mammal passes by.

They climb to the tops of grass and the ends of branches and wait for something to brush past, where they go on to bury their head into the skin to feed for several days until dropping off to continue their life cycle. If that’s not gross enough the feeding method can mean other diseases are transmitted, most notably Lyme Disease. Lyme disease is a long term infection caused by the bacteria Borrelia and can be very serious, not all ticks carry the disease but still it is estimated to affect 365,000 people per year worldwide, a number that appears to be increasing but that could simply be down to more awareness and accurate diagnoses being made.


Deer and Sheep ticks are the most common in the UK and can vary in size, shape and colour depending on their age, but generally have a protruding head with their eight legs grouped closely behind and a flattened circular body beyond that (sometimes red or russet brown). Young ticks can be a mere millimetre and adults an impressive half-centimetre or more!


Avoiding ticks

These days ticks can be found in pretty much any area of UK countryside since sheep and deer are widespread, try to avoid long grass or overgrown areas where you will be brushing against lots of plants.

It is advisable to wear long sleeves and trousers, preferably light in colour so they show up better, in at-risk areas which give you a chance to brush any ticks away before they attach and pose a problem. Tucking your shirt in and trouser legs into your socks is also recommended - it might look uncool but sounds better than having a diseased tick face buried in your skin…


OFF! Insect repellent - available on AmazonRepellents containing DEET are reputed to be effective against ticks though is seems to be something of a trade off as the chemical may also create negative side effects. As usual it comes down to user discretion, if used correctly and occasionally such chemicals can prove beneficial to health overall – compared to contracting a potentially fatal disease anyway.


Checking for ticks

It is important to regularly check yourself for any that may have found their way onto your clothes so as to prevent them gaining access to your skin, and to give yourself and your clothes a thorough inspection on your return home (or to camp) in case you missed any. Ideally have a buddy look you over who can properly check through hair and the back of your neck etc, hiding places you might otherwise miss alone.

It’s important to also check and protect your pets for ticks, especially as they can be difficult to spot amongst fur. Develop a routine of thoroughly grooming and closely inspecting your dog or cat as soon as they’re back inside including between the toe pads (doubly advised since embedded grass seeds can also cause painful problems to animals’ feet). Tick-Shield dietary capsules for dogs are reported to work well for most owners to prevent ticks attaching in the first place.


An engorged tick is easy to spot as a pearly sack, sometimes swelling to the size of a pea - generally though a tick will be noticed early on as a small black mite.


Removing an attached tickBuy the Tick Twister set on Amazon

The quicker you can remove the tick, the less the chance of infection. What you DON’T want to do is to break the tick up leaving it’s head behind as this can increase the risk of infection, and is frankly a disgusting thought.

A tick removal tool is by far the best at getting the job done so we recommend investing in one ahead of any encounters (let’s face it they’re cheap enough!).


Tick Card with magnifying lens - buy on AmazonThe Tick card is a good alternative for camping and hiking since it’s so compact and therefore likely to stay on your person, not back at the tent or at home. It even has a magnifying glass which can be very helpful it getting a good look at a small tick or other foreign body.


If you don’t have a tool, a pair of good quality tweezers is the next best thing – firmly grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and gently yet consistently pull until it comes free.

In a similar fashion a loop of cotton can be carefully looped and tightened around the tick and the same gentle pulling applied.


Do not apply heat or other painful methods of attack as a stressed tick can regurgitate its stomach contents (which might contain bacteria and other diseases) into the wound before it pulls it’s head free to escape.


If the head of the tick gets left in the skin try to remove it as much as you can with a pair of fine tweezers as for a splinter. Cleanse the area and allow to heal naturally.


Symptoms of Lyme disease

The most common symptom of Lyme disease is a circular red rash around the bite area often with a pale area that gives the impression of a ‘bullseye’, but it’s important to note that this isn’t present in every case, or may not be noticed if the bite happens in the hair line.

Accompanying symptoms are of feeling generally tired and unwell, similar to a flu but that persists longer than would otherwise be expected. Arthritis like joint pain is also reported in untreated cases, which can create problems with diagnosis for people already suffering from auto-immune conditions since the symptoms can be much the same. Without treatment symptoms can progress to affect the nervous and circulatory system.

If you have been bitten by a tick, or have been in a high risk area, and go on to develop one or more of these symptoms it is important to tell your doctor as soon as possible where you can be given the correct course of antibiotics and appropriate follow up tests and treatment.


Other irritating suckers

the best insect repellents TESTED!Everyone is aware of Mosquitoes, midges, and their heavyweight counterparts the Cattle and Horse flies can inflict a painful bite though both are generally warded off by a decent repellent – discover the Best Performing DEET & non-DEET repellents tested here>


Harvest Mites (aka Chiggers) 

These guys thankfully seem to be a rarity but we had the misfortune of encountering them one summer, at an otherwise lovely wild camping location amidst the rolling cereal fields in Bedfordshire. In the UK their reign of terror seems to occur at around the same time as the wheat harvest, so around late July and leave a terrible array of extremely itchy bites! Even more annoyingly, although they climb aboard from the ground (socks and trouser legs) the larvae migrate to the tightly fitting areas of clothing like waistbands and folds of skin (armpits, behind knees and elbows) making the bites all the more maddening. They actually don’t bite in the traditional sense, nor are they after our blood, rather feeding on skin cells by injecting digestive enzymes into localised areas of skin… lovely little fellows. As adults they cease to be a nuisance to us, preferring to feed off of plant matter instead.

Harvest mites are attracted to warm dark areas and can apparently be lured to a single, preferably out of the way location, using a dark painted square laid in the long grass. Of course if it’s you laying in the long grass you’re likely to suffer for it! Avoid paths close by wheat crops and farmland at this time of year, a wise choice considering all the heavy machinery in operation anyway.

Unless you have a microscope on hand you’re unlikely to spot them by inspecting your clothing, so the best method for avoiding a bout of chigger bites is to change clothes as soon as you get home from a walk and hop in the shower, along with the dog... Pop your clothes into the wash immediately too so as not to risk the wee beasties making their way around the house or into other clothing! If they do get you it’s a short lived infestation and the itching subsides after a couple of days, providing you clean your clothes and at risk areas. Other advice is to utilise a steam cleaner for things you can’t put in the wash.


We hope you found this article helpful, apologies about the likely itching - we’d love to hear from you so leave us a comment below!

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Sarah is a UK artist and writer with a lifetime interest in camping and survival techniques.

Living the #vanlife since before it was a hashtag and touring on two wheels with her husband Ryan, they have a wealth of camping and motorcycling knowledge to share, and know a thing or two about packing light! read more

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