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West Anglian Orienteering Club

Be Tick AwareLyme disease is a serious tick borne illness

Last Updated: Wed 10 Oct 2018

Ticks are prevalent in Thetford forest generally, including many areas used for orienteering by WAOC and neighbouring clubs. This is one area of the country where ticks carry the bacteria for Lyme disease. This is a debilitating and hard to diagnose condition, so it is important to check yourself (and your family members and pets) for ticks after you run or walk in these forest areas.

Current information on Lyme disease can be found on The NHS website. A useful leaflet published by LymeDiseaseUK can be found here. Advice on tick awareness for orienteers can be found on the British Orienteering Website.

The following information is copied from an article dated 2009 by Jane Hodgson, orienteer and Chartered Physiotherapist. The original is no longer available online.

Lyme disease

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bacterium borrelia burgdorferi. In nearly all cases it is caused by a bite from a tick that is carrying the disease.


Anyone who works or does sport in the countryside is at risk of getting Lyme disease. Ticks prefer to live in woods, heathland and moorland, so anyone moving through these areas could pick up a tick. Ticks are more active during the summer months, but you could get a tick bite at any time of the year. Ticks transfer on to humans and other animals by sitting on plants then moving onto a new host as it pushes through the undergrowth. Ticks can’t fly or jump, so the deeper the undergrowth the easier it is for the tick to transfer across. You are at more risk of picking up a tick from tall bracken in the summer than from dead bracken in the winter.

Ticks are related to mites and spiders. The smallest ticks may just look like a spot of dirt on your skin, or a dark freckle – but one that doesn’t come off in the shower!

Symptoms of Lyme disease

Lyme disease has been around for many years, but people are more aware of it now then they were in the past. Its symptoms are diverse and variable but may include:

  • A bull's-eye rash; i.e. a red rash that starts at the site of the tick bite and spreads outwards.
  • Flu-like symptoms.
  • Joint pains.
  • Muscle pains or weakness.
  • Fatigue.
  • Fever
  • Headache

> Lyme disease is systemic, which means it can affect almost any of your body's systems.

The incubation period for Lyme disease can be anything from 2 to 30 days after infection following a tick bite. So, bear in mind that any symptoms within a month of the tick bite may be attributable to Lyme disease. If you do suffer any ill health within a month of a tick bite then mention it to your medical practitioner. Lyme is easier to treat if diagnosed early on.

Avoiding getting Lyme disease

The old saying 'prevention is better than cure' definitely applies to Lyme disease.

The first principle is to try to prevent yourself from getting bitten by a tick in the first place, not just when you are orienteering but any time that you are out in the countryside:-

  • Make it more difficult for ticks to get to your skin. Wear shoes rather than sandals and long trousers rather than shorts. Tuck your socks into your trousers.
  • Consider wearing clothing impregnated with a repellent such as permethrin or DEET.
  • Check yourself after any activity that has taken you into an area where there may have been ticks. And don’t just check the areas of your skin that have been exposed. Once it gets on to you a tick will crawl around and often latch on in a warm spot – perhaps in the crotch, armpit, or behind a knee.
  • Don’t assume that the fact that you haven't felt anything means that you haven’t been bitten. Tick bites are generally painless.
  • Check your pets as well. If your pet picks up a tick, it can easily pass it on to you or other members of your family.
  • If you find a tick, remove it immediately.

Tick removal

If you find a tick, you need to remove it as quickly as possible. The longer a tick stays on you, the more chance there is of it passing on any infection that it is carrying.

The tick will have its mouth parts embedded in your skin, so you need to make sure that (a) you remove all parts of the tick, and (b) you do not make it regurgitate its stomach contents into you whilst doing so. The best way of removing a tick is to use a special tick removal tool. These are available from pet shops, or on-line. Slide the hook of the tick remover between the tick and your skin and gently twist until the tick comes off.

If you’ve found a tick on you but don’t have a tick remover with you,use a pair of tweezers instead, but be careful not to squeeze the tick's head or body, as this may cause it to regurgitate its stomach contents into you. Then buy a tick remover for next time!

When you find a tick:-

  • Do not cover the tick with Vaseline / petroleum jelly.
  • Do not attempt to burn it off.
  • Do not squeeze it.

All of these approaches will stress the tick and make it more likely to regurgitate its stomach contents into you.

Tick and Lyme disease

The fact that you've been bitten by a tick does not automatically mean that you're going to get Lyme disease. The majority of people who are bitten by a tick won’t go on to get any symptoms. Remember you will only get Lyme disease from a tick if (a) the tick is infected itself and (b) the bacteria actually get passed from the tick to you.

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