I found my first tick the other week.
At least, I think I did; there's a chance I've had one before that dropped off before it was found. But it's certainly the first one I've actually discovered with its blood-sucking mouthparts still buried in my epidermis. And being my first tick, my initial reaction on discovering its swollen elliptical body fastened just below my left knee-cap was "cool". After all, being snagged by a tick is something of a rite of passage for hill walkers, isn't it? Almost immediately this thought was replaced by one of sheer revulsion, and I leapt from the bath, splashing the walls, ceiling and floor as I began emptying cabinets in a frantic search of my O’Tom tick removal tool.
I know the theory; you need to remove the tick ASAP, and not clumsily with your fingers, or flat-nosed tweezers, or with Vaseline or alcohol, but with a precise tick removal device. Stress the tick during removal and it could regurgitate its stomach contents into your blood stream, the thought of which is enough to make me want to regurgitate my breakfast onto my laptop. Break its head off as you extract it and you then have the job of attempting to dig out the remains still embedded in your flesh and the increased chance of infection. Infection from what? Well, globally, ticks can carry all sorts of nastiness, but in the UK there's a specific bacterial infection that I was already beginning to worry about: Lyme disease.
The parasite was removed smoothly, successfully and, most importantly, intact (I really have to recommend the O'Tom Tick Twister). But not before taking a few pictures first. Don't judge me - this was a landmark occasion. And then, in a typically 21st century fashion, I put the pics onTwitter. And here's where things started to go wrong.
The responses varied between "Don't worry about it - I've had hundreds and I'm still alive" to "Get to your Dr's now and take any antibiotic they'll give you or you'll DIE". And this worried me. I'd never been overly concerned about getting a tick. I know to remove it carefully, I know to clean the bite-site with an antiseptic wipe, and I know to keep an eye out for the bull's-eye rash around the bite than indicates infection from Borrelia burgdorferi (the name on Lyme diseases' birth certificate). But with the Tweets of terror outweighing those of reassurance, I thought it best to seek expert advice.
I dropped into my local surgery and spoke to the nurse practitioners. As it turned out, she was a regular walker with plenty of experience of ticks, albeit mostly removing them from her dogs. She checked the bite, noting that there was no indication of a rash or reaction. She also explained that, unlike their cousins in mainland Europe or the States (the latter being the main source of the most pessimistic tweets), the majority of UK ticks do not carry the disease. I enquired about antibiotics, but was advised that as the risk of infection was low, they do not prescribe them prophylactically. However, it can take up to a month for symptoms to present, so I should keep an eye out for that rash and any flu like symptoms, and pop back if I had any concerns.
So, there you have it. It’s been three weeks and there’s no sign of any rash, so I think I’ve gotten away with it. Of course, the best option is to avoid being bitten in the first place: long trousers, gaiters, insect repellent etc. But it’s good to know that, actually, there’s not too much to worry about – not in the UK at least, although being aware of what to look out for is no bad thing.
I do have one regret, though. I killed and disposed of the tick once it’d been removed (it's what the internet tells you to do). Now I’m feeling calmer and less resentful, I wish I hadn’t. It was my first after all, and although I have the photos, I can’t help feeling I should have had it stuffed and mounted on my living room wall. Nevermind – I’m saving a space for my second above the fireplace…
Ben Weeks (@GingerheadBen)