One of the largest ever ecology surveys of ticks in dogs was carried out by Bristol University in 2015. With over 15,000 dogs examined, the findings revealed that a third of them were hosts for ticks. Named “The Big Tick Project”, the study has exposed an alarming dispersal of the disease-carrying arachnids right across the UK. This applies to urban areas as much as rural ones.
The implications are worrisome. Ticks infected with the bacteria borrelia burgdorferi can transmit Lyme disease. They also carry other pathogens. Lyme disease, if left untreated, can potentially be fatal to dogs and to humans. One bite from an almost invisible tick can cause terrible ongoing health problems. Professor Richard Wall, who led the research, has said this leads to grave cause for concern.
Conservationist Chris Packham has also commented on the newly released data. He found the distribution of ticks in the UK “shocking and surprising” and in particular the potential that ticks had to transmit disease to our pets and ourselves.
Public Health England estimate 2-3,000 cases per year of new cases of Lyme disease in England and Wales, but not all of the suspected cases can be confirmed, as not everyone presents with the classic “bullseye” rash, and the tests themselves are unreliable. Without early treatment of antibiotics, Lyme disease can severely damage the nervous system.
The public are urged to become “tick aware” and to take adequate precautions when working or enjoying leisure activities in the outdoors. Use of repellant, checking for ticks after exposure to long grass or woods, and the wearing of long sleeves and long trousers, in light colours, are all recommended. With the serious potential consequences of being bitten, avoiding a tick bite is a paramount concern. Dogs and cats should be dosed with tick-prevention medication, and if a tick is found attached, it can be removed with a special tool.