Ticks are carriers of several diseases, some of which can be life changing. They feed off of a variety of mammals and birds, including squirrels, deer, sheep and garden birds. This means they’re usually found in areas with these animals, such as:
- grassy areas
Ticks don’t fly or jump but climb on to animals or humans as they brush past.
In the UK fewer than 3% of ticks are infected with pathogens, but in Italy the figure is 18%, the most common being:
- Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) (mainly transmitted by the wood tick)
- Lyme disease (mainly transmitted by the wood tick)
- Rickettsiosis (mainly transmitted by the brown dog tick)
- Tick-borne relapsing fever
- Tick-borne meningoencephalitis
Tick bites aren’t usually painful and sometimes only cause a red lump to develop where you were bitten. However, in some cases they may cause:
Tick-borne disease is an increasing, and poorly documented, problem in Italy and would appear to be most predominant in the Northern regions.
The Tuscan Regional Government advises walkers and other spending time in the countryside as follows:
- wear suitable clothing: closed shoes (boots better), long-sleeved shirt tucked into trousers, long trousers with the ends tucked into socks/socks, hat or headgear;
- prefer light-coloured clothes (they make it easier to identify ticks);
- if necessary, use insect repellents on the skin such as N-diethyltoluamide (DEET) or icaridin (KBR 3023), carefully following the instructions on the label;
- walk in the centre of the paths, avoid brushing against the vegetation along the edge of paths, do not enter areas where the grass is tall, do not sit directly on the grass;
- at the end of a stay outdoors, carry out a careful visual and tactile examination of your skin and clothing and remove any ticks present;
- shake out any clothes (blankets, tablecloths) that have been spread on the grass before returning home;
- treat pets (dogs) with repellent products against external parasites (collars, spot-ons); brush clothes before bringing them inside the home.
What do do if one finds a tick
To extract a tick from the host’s body, use the specifically designed tweezers currently on the market, grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible. Rotate and pull gently upwards without tightening too much and avoiding crushing the body of the tick; in this way you avoid causing the tick to regurgitate into the host or causing mouth parts to remain stuck in the skin. Do not apply heat or other chemical substances of any kind (alcohol, oil, petroleum, ether, acetone, insecticides) on the tick because this could induce a regurgitation reflex, with a strong increase in the risk of transmitting infections.
After removing the tick, wash the wound with warm soapy water and apply an antiseptic (avoiding disinfectants that stain the skin, such as iodine) to the affected area. After removal, the tick rostrum or parts of it may remain inside the skin posing a risk of local infection: in this case it will be necessary to contact a doctor. It is advisable to store the tick in a bottle with 70% alcohol for subsequent morphological identification and possible isolation of pathogens, in the event of the appearance of symptoms in order to receive targeted treatments and specific medicines.
Mark the date on which you were bitten by the tick on your calendar and pay attention to the appearance of any symptomatic manifestations of tick-borne diseases in the period following the bite (skin redness, fever, etc.). In case of illness, inform your doctor as soon as possible of the date and location in which you came into contact with the arthropod. The administration of antibiotics for systemic use during the observation period is not recommended, because it can mask any signs of disease and make the diagnosis more complicated.