Experts

Tick attack as experts warn number of blood-sucking bugs on rise in Scotland

As if battling pesky midgies every summer wasn’t bad enough …

Dog walkers, campers and countryside lovers have been given a new warning that will make their skin crawl.

Experts have said the number of disease-carrying ticks is on the rise in Scotland.

And to make matters worse, the blood-sucking blighters are living longer too.

The bugs are responsible for passing bacteria causing Lyme disease – which attacks the nervous system – through their bite.

If left untreated, it can lead to heart problems, temporary facial paralysis and even death.

Andrew Gold, a trustee with charity Lyme Disease Action, contracted the infection after being bitten in 2011 while living in Strathconan, Ayrshire.

He was so ill afterwards that he had to take early retirement.

He said: “For many decades, the UK and Scotland has had widely distributed ticks.

“Lately, we have anecdotal evidence of ticks being greater in numbers or being around for longer periods.

“It used to be that you wouldn’t really see a tick outside of a period from May to September but that is no longer the case and we see them much earlier and later. We don’t know exactly why that is – what we do know is that there are ticks everywhere.

Ticks often feast on dogs

“There are more ticks in places with moisture and longish vegetation but not all hotspots necessarily fit that stereotype. Uist is having a particular problem at the moment and that doesn’t fit the pattern.”

It is thought factors including global warming and farming practices could be to blame for the high numbers around the country.

A smartphone app to track the bugs was launched in France, where more than 30,000 people are infected each year.

Professor Dominic Mellor, chairman of the Scottish Health Protection Network’s Lyme disease sub group, has been raising awareness of the disease.

He said: “There is a lot of work going on in Scotland trying to understand ticks. The sub group aim to raise awareness among the public, doctors, nurses and pharmacists about how to recognise clinical symptoms and improve our surveillance.

“We want to understand where and when ticks will be most abundant in Scotland. If we better understand it, hopefully we can find out how to better mitigate it.

“We don’t want people to avoid the countryside. We want them to get out and about and enjoy it.

“The focus of our advice is how to reduce your likelihood of encountering ticks but, if you do, what do they look like and how do you get them off quickly?

“If you get them off within 24 hours, then they are very unlikely to pass any disease-causing organisms to you.”

NHS Highland worked with Scottish Rural University College to create Lyme App, which tracks tick hotspots, in a project funded by the European Space Agency.

The National Lyme Borreliosis Testing Laboratory, based at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, said: “There is already a high incidence of Lyme disease in the Highlands and it has increased over the past decade.”

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