Ticks are small spider-like ectoparasites that live in moist grassy areas, and feed on the blood of animals and humans. They can carry lyme disease, which is a condition that requires prompt treatment.
- Attach themselves on a body to feed
- Can cause lyme disease and other diseases
- Should be removed properly with tweezers
If you think you are developing symptoms of lyme disease having been bitten by a tick, you should contact a healthcare professional urgently. You can speak to one of our UK doctors through our private online video consultation service.
What are tick bites?
Tick bites can occur anywhere throughout the UK, and may transmit lyme disease. It’s thought that they have a higher prevalence in the Scottish highlands and the South of England. If a tick is removed correctly, a short time after it has attached itself to the skin, there shouldn’t be any complications.
In order for lyme disease to be transmitted, a tick has to be attached to the body for up to 24 hours. Even if they are attached, they have to feed on the blood before they can pass on the infection. It is through the process of engorging, where the tick becomes full of blood (and regurgitates it back into the host), that lyme disease is transmitted.
Ticks cannot fly or jump. They wait for a passing animal to brush against them and attach themselves in this way. This process is called questing. Consequently, leaving skin exposed in moist areas with long grass is potentially hazardous.
A rash, known as erythema migrans, is produced as an indicator of lyme disease, and resembles a ‘bullseye’ target. It increases in size and usually has a clearing between the bite and the outer ring. It typically develops one to four weeks after being bitten.
While this ‘bullseye’ rash is an indicator of lyme disease, another rash can develop from a tick bite that is not a symptom of any complication. If the rash is more painful and itchy, and has developed quickly, it could be an inflammatory reaction.
What should I do if I notice a tick on my body?
If you spot a tick on your body, you should remove it as soon as possible with a pair of tweezers. The best way to do this is by pulling the tick out from close to the skin, so that none of its mouth is left behind, which could cause an infection. After removal, the area should be washed thoroughly with soap and warm water.
If you think you may have been bitten by a tick and would like to speak to a doctor online, you can do so through our secure video consultation service. They may be able to diagnose your condition and provide options for treatment. Book a slot at a time that’s suitable for you.
How are tick bites diagnosed?
The majority of the time, a tick bite will not cause any harm. The infection rate of lyme disease is up to 15% in any given region of the UK. A tick can be spotted easily on the skin, and should be removed immediately.
If lyme disease has been contracted, there are a number of symptoms that you can look out for. A flu-like illness, with muscle and joint pain, will develop, followed by a characteristic ‘bullseye’ rash with a red dot in the centre, accompanied by expanding red rings. These symptoms can appear anywhere between three and 30 days after the disease has been transmitted.
Will I need tests?
In most cases, if you have clear and obvious symptoms of lyme disease, you will not require tests, and a course of antibiotics will be prescribed, such as doxycycline. However, it is possible to get a blood test if you do not have a rash but have flu-like symptoms, as not all symptoms are guaranteed in every occurrence.
What will a doctor normally advise?
If you have removed a tick and haven’t experienced any symptoms over the following days, it’s unlikely that you’ll have lyme disease. However, if you develop signs commonly associated with flu, such as a headache, fatigue, muscle aches or a fever, you should speak to a doctor as soon as you can.
What treatments are there for tick bites?
The actual bite will normally resolve on its own without any specific treatment.
If lyme disease is present, doxycycline or amoxicillin are the preferred antibiotics for the condition. Most people will fully recover from the illness with treatment, although this may take longer for some than others.
Re-testing is normally recommended to ensure that the infection has gone. If it hasn’t, a patient may need to be referred to a specialist.
A minority of people who contract lyme disease may still experience symptoms (such as aching and fatigue) for some time after they recover. Currently, it isn’t fully understood why this happens.
How is a tick bite treated?
It depends on whether a tick has transmitted a disease or not. In most circumstances, correct removal of a tick within a short space of time will not warrant any treatment. However, if someone has contracted lyme disease from a tick, a course of antibiotics will need to be prescribed.
What treatments are there?
Treatment for the bite itself will not usually be necessary.
If a doctor suspects lyme disease may have been transmitted, the first choice antibiotic is doxycycline (given at 100mg twice daily for three weeks). The second choice is amoxicillin (1g three times per day for three weeks). If neither doxycycline or amoxicillin are suitable, azithromycin (500mg per day for 17 days) may be issued.
Are there side effects?
Common side effects of doxycycline include headaches, nausea and an increased sensitivity to sunlight.
It is also possible to develop something called a ‘Jarisch-Herxheimer’ reaction, which causes a worsening of symptoms once antibiotics have been taken. This occurs when a large number of bacteria are killed in a short space of time. However, it does not happen in every case of lyme disease and will resolve itself within one to two days.
Can I consult a doctor about tick bites online?
Yes. If you think you may have been bitten by a tick and are concerned, our service can help. To talk to a doctor online about a tick bite, book a video appointment using our consultation facility. If one of our prescribers decides that your tick bite warrants treatment or further attention, they will be able to issue a prescription and provide advice on what to do next.
Prescriptions issued by our video doctors can be sent to your local pharmacy to be dispensed, or handled by our GPhC registered in-house pharmacy.