Thursday, 11 February 2010

Doubly cross ticks - I hope!

For the second year running local gardeners may have been dismayed by the unusually hard frosts that Budleigh Salterton has experienced.

But pets and their owners should be pleased that the icy weather will have helped to see off many of the pests and parasites which can turn a pleasant summer's day walk in the woods into an annoying and even dangerous experience.

Ticks are one of the main culprits.

I'm moved to warn people yet again about these unpleasant creatures having just read the worrying account of his experience of Lyme disease by Times journalist Alex Wade.

Alex was brought up in the Budleigh area. I met him by chance on the beach here during the pebble-building competition last year, and he was kind enough to write a piece about my blog in his Times 'Coaster' column at

The flood of online comments and letters from fellow-Lyme disease sufferers that he received following the account of his own illness is disturbing proof that the disease needs to receive more attention than it currently does. In America, incidentally, it is very big indeed, as I reported earlier on this site.

'Oh dear! A charming visitor to the garden, I thought at first, but then realised it was probably tick-infested. And it did a lot of damage to the plants as well.'

In recent years there has been a significant increase in cases of Lyme disease in the UK, from under 200 in 1997 to 768 in 2006. According to Lyme Disease Action the Health Protection Agency (HPA) acknowledges that confirmed cases do not necessarily reflect all the cases of the disease. HPA official estimates suggest there could be up to 3,000 new cases occurring in the UK every year. The true number of cases is not known, and may be higher still since full recovery may not take place in many cases.

The rise has been blamed on the growing number of infected ticks carrying the spiral-shaped bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, which is carried by some types of ticks which live on sheep, deer, badgers and other warm blooded animals in forested, heathland and moorland areas.

East Devon MP Hugo Swire has been at the forefront of a campaign to draw attention to the problem and organised a one-day seminar at the House of Commons in November 2008.

Most people become aware of the blood-sucking parasites when they discover that their pet cat or dog has an unexpected lump which turns out to be an engorged tick. The pests can be easily removed with a tick hook, available at veterinary practices, but it is important to remove the entire tick including the head. When they do bite humans, it can come as a shock, especially when you discover them embedded in unexpected and sometimes embarrassing places on the body.

A bite followed by a bullseye rash is generally taken to be a warning sign of possible Lyme disease infection, and Lyme Disease Action recommends photographing the affected spot. But not everyone shares this view.

Hopefully we will see fewer of these annoying creatures in 2010. Last year local vet Chris Ridge of Raddenstiles Veterinary Centre on Salterton Road reported that in the previous relatively mild winter he had been removing ticks regularly from animals. "I have not personally done one in the last few months,” he said. “I would say the frosts will be of benefit in reducing the impact of ticks and other arthropod parasites where the reservoir of infection is outside the home.”

Unfortunately the cold winter will not have seen off all parasites, warns Chris Ridge. “Those that breed and reside in our homes – primarily the ever present flea – tend to benefit as we turn the central heating up so that our carpets and flooring have the microclimate of the African Savannah.”

Meanwhile I will carry on doing my bit to combat the tick menace by supporting
the Clinton Venison stall at Budleigh Farmers Market.

If you'd like to help reduce the deer population contact Estate Ranger Tom Garner for the latest prices and availability of vension.

Telephone 01395 441142

The page carries the worrying note that all the ticks appearing on that page were collected in Devon!
Alex Wade's blog, entitled 'A surfer's battle to beat cervical myelopathy and Lyme disease and surf again' is at

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