By Pakinee Pooprasert
The largest survey of ticks in dogs showed that almost a third of dogs checked at random across UK carried ticks.
The study was carried out by Bristol University and involved almost 15,000 dogs from across the UK. It was launched in April 2015 and the researchers asked participating vets to examine dogs in their practice for each week and complete a questionnaire related to the species, life-cycle stage, sex and location of origin and whether it was carrying any pathogens.
Researchers found that the risk of an animal picking up a tick is as great in urban areas as in rural ones. Additionally, while ticks were present across the UK, the highest risk areas were Scotland, East Anglia and the South West.
One of the main repercussions for this shocking finding is that ticks can carry a range of diseases, including Lyme disease and a type of parasite discovered to be potentially fatal to dogs.
Lyme disease is transmitted by the bite of a tick infected with Borrelia burgdorferi. This serious disease can affect humans and can potentially cause meningitis, heart failure, and in severe cases, can be fatal. The researchers described that “what we are primarily concerned about is the disease that ticks carry. In the UK, we have relatively low rates of the prevalence of these pathogens at the moment and, in contrast, in continental Europe they have much higher rates of disease. As there seems to be a rise in tick numbers, we need to be concerned and be aware of the potential for increasing problems.”
Ticks do not jump or fly, but rather, climb onto clothes if a person brushes against something that the tick is holding on to. Ticks can be found in woods, urban parks, heathland, fields and gardens.
According to Public Health England, it is estimated that tere are 2000 to 3000 new confirmed cases of Lyme disease in England and Wales each year, but not all cases are confirmed by laboratory testing. About 15% of cases are found in people who have returned from abroad.
One of the initial symptoms of the infection is a red circular rash around the bite, that looks like a bulls eye rash. However, this is not always present and cannot be relied upon as a warning sign. Moreover, victims can develop flu-like symptoms and muscle and joint pain.
Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics, but if left untreated, can cause serious health problems. It can, as previously mentioned, affect the nervous system, causing meningitis, or can cause heart failure.
Despite this disturbing finding, the threat of Lyme disease in the UK is fortunately still thought to be small compared to other countries; some 3 per cent of ticks carry the bacteria. But, due to the high number of ticks across the country and potential health consequences of Lyme disease, scientists are urging people to be aware of the risk and avoid being bitten.