Lyme Disease: How to Identify, Avoid and Remove Ticks
We've all heard of ticks, and you may even have seen them on your pets. But did you know that humans can also be bitten by these small mites that carry serious diseases?
It’s important to be aware of the risks involved, and the precautions to take, to protect yourself from ticks and against Lyme disease. There are around 1,500 laboratory-confirmed cases of Lyme disease in England and Wales each year, although it is estimated that there are 3,000 to 4,000 new cases each year, as many cases of Lyme disease will be treated by doctors without the need for laboratory tests. In this article, you’ll discover the characteristics and behaviours of ticks, as well as the best ways to avoid a bite, and how to treat one.
What is a tick?
Ticks are parasitic haematophagous* mites that are mainly active in wet and mild weather.
There are about 900 species of ticks that are found throughout the world, 40 of which can be found in Europe.
They generally live in humid, wooded, herbaceous and forested areas (deciduous forests, undergrowth, meadows, or in the mountains) and can be found in urban areas such as parks and gardens. They are more frequently found in spring and autumn, when the weather is both cool and damp.
Ticks aren’t found on the ground, but actually lie in wait for their prey on blades of grass. Contrary to what you might think, the tick doesn’t remain attached to its victim for a long period of time either, it drops off once it’s consumed the blood it needs from its prey.
The eggs, larvae or adults of many tick species can’t survive when it is too cold or too dry.
They are vectors of several serious diseases including Lyme disease.
In this article, we’ll focus mainly on Ixodes ricinus, the most common tick found worldwide.
The development cycle of the Ixodes ricinus tick consists of three stages that can last anywhere from two to six years. From the egg, a larva is born which then transforms into a nymph (2mm) and then into an adult (3-4 mm).
*Hematophagous: refers to an animal that feeds on the blood of other living beings.
Why do ticks bite?
First of all, it is important to know that not all ticks bite. Only the larvae, nymphs or adult females need to bite, as blood is essential to their diet to enable them to moult. Nymphs cause the most bites, as there are more of them than adults, and account for more than 80% of bites in some regions!
Ticks bite most often at night and each time they moult, except in dry and hot periods when they need to feed more often.
How do they bite?
The tick has pedipalps* and sensory organs, including Haller's organ on its first pair of legs, which enable it to locate its host. It is the carbon dioxide, heat and smell emitted by the host that attracts the tick.
To reach the host, it waits for a human or animal to brush against the vegetation on which it is perched. It will then cling to the host and find the ideal place to bite. Unlike fleas, a tick doesn’t "jump"!
Once it’s attached to its host, it becomes undetectable thanks to an injection of anaesthetic saliva. Then it cuts the flesh and pushes its hypostome* down to a small blood vessel to feed.
Unfortunately, humans are usually an accidental host. Ticks feed mainly on the blood of vertebrate animals like birds, and small mammals such as rabbits or rats etc. The tick attaches to the skin in a warm, moist place, well irrigated with blood (armpits, ears, back of the knees, groin, fold of the elbows, neck, scalp). It’s vigilant to always check these places after every walk in the forest, a field or simply after an afternoon in your garden.
*pedipalps: see diagram of properties of Ixodes ricinus . Even appendage of arachnids, following the chelicerae. (The pedipalps vary greatly according to the group and are the pincers of scorpions and chelae. In male spiders, they serve as an organ of intromission.) cf : Dictionnaire Larousse
*hypostome: a calcified structure resembling a harpoon near the mouth which allows the tick to be firmly anchored to its host..
How long does a tick stay attached?
A tick’s blood meal will last around 3 to 7 days, depending on the stage of its moult, after which it detaches from its host and falls off. This is why it’s so difficult to detach a tick from your pet, as it won’t come off voluntarily until it has consumed the blood it needs.
How to remove a tick
It is very important not to pull off a tick with your fingers, nails or tweezers! Pressing on the tick with your fingers or tweezers causes pressure on the abdomen of the parasite, which causes regurgitation, and it is during regurgitation that diseases are transmitted. The same reflex regurgitation can come from using rubbing alcohol or another kind of product on a tick.
Whether the tick is attached to a human or an animal, the procedure is the same. Use a tick remover with specific hooks to avoid damaging the tick and to remove it correctly! You can find these hooks in pharmacies, drugstores and pet shops.
1. Choose the right hook size
Choose a tick puller that is appropriate for the size of the tick. The more blood it has sucked, the bigger it is.
2. Place the hook correctly
Slide the hook of the tick remover as close to the skin as possible through the side (flank/side) of the tick
3. Make the right move
Turn the hook without pulling so that the tick will gently come off by itself. There is no specific direction of rotation. Turn the hook as if it were a screw.
What to do after removing the tick
If there is a piece of tick left in the skin, is it serious?
No, it’s not very serious. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the head of the tick that remains in the skin, but its rostrum (stinger) through which it feeds. The bacteria that can cause disease in humans are housed in the tick's intestine. So once the body of the tick has been removed, there is no risk of the bacteria getting back to the stinger and coming into contact with the blood.
Once the tick is removed (with or without the rostrum), disinfect the site immediately with the following formula, recommended by Dr Franck Gigon, General Practitioner.
In 1 teaspoon of Calophylla vegetable oil (≈5ml), dilute:
- 1 drop of Oregano essential oil
- 1 drop of Ceylon Cinnamon essential oil
- 7 drops of Palmarosa essential oil
Apply 3 drops of the aromatic mixture directly to the bite area. Massage into the skin.
Repeat 3 times a day for 10 days:
This formula is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women, children under 7 years old, asthmatics, epileptics, people with a history of convulsions. For those undergoing medical treatment, long-term illness, or allergy to essential oils, consult a health professional before use.
Once the tick is removed properly with a tick screw, it can be sent to a specialised laboratory to be analysed to find out what pathogens it carries.
Make a note of the day the tick appeared and regularly monitor the affected area for a few days to check that no significant redness appears. In case of doubt, persistent redness, flu-like symptoms (fever, aches and pains, etc.), or fatigue, consult your doctor urgently.
What are the risks of a tick bite?
After a tick bite, it’s possible to develop Lyme disease, which is caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria found in the tick's intestines.
The tick is infected with this bacterium at the time of the bite, having ingested the blood of a host that carried the bacterium, mostly likely a rat, bird, rabbit or lizard etc. This tick-borne infection is the most common transmission of the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium. The bacterium is transferred to a human host in the following two stages:
1: During the blood meal following the bite, bacteria from the tick's gut passes into its salivary glands
2: Transmission via saliva depends on the time of attachment of the tick to the skin, as well as the rate of bacterial infestation of the tick
In Europe, experimental and clinical data has shown that the risk of transmission of Lyme disease is low when the tick is removed within 24 hours of attachment. All the more reason to check every part of your body after any outdoor activity!
Ticks can also transmit other diseases, although cases are much rarer. According to the French National Authority for Health, you can contract the following diseases after being bitten:
- Bacteria: rickettiosis, tularemia or granulocytic anaplasmosis
- Parasites: babebiasis
- Viruses: meningoencephalitis (for which a vaccine exists)
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is an infectious disease caused by a spiral-shaped bacterium of the genus Borrelia.
It is transmitted to humans when they are bitten by a tick infected with the bacterium, making it one of the so-called "vector-borne" diseases. It’s not easy to recognise because it can cause a wide range of symptoms.
These symptoms are varied and not very specific, which can lead to misdiagnosis, or late diagnosis of the disease. Many people may be affected without knowing it.
There are 65,000 to 70,000 new cases officially reported each year, but the France Lyme association estimates that 300,000 people are currently without diagnosis and/or treatment. Lyme disease can lead to serious neurological and joint complications.
What are the symptoms?
The erythema migrans usually spreads from the site of the bite to a diameter of 5cm+. This skin lesion is not usually associated with pain or itching, and the extent, shape, appearance, and duration of the skin lesion varies from person to person.
This skin lesion may be isolated or multiple depending on the stage of the disease. In stage 1, a single erythema migrans is visible on the body. If you reach stage 2, several erythema migrans may be visible on the body.
Isolated erythema migrans usually appears between 3 and 30 days after infection but can appear up to 3 months after the bite. Multiple erythema migrans occur between a few days and a few weeks after infection, usually up to 6 months after the bite.
Neuroborreliosis is an attack on the peripheral or central nervous system or meninges, in response to the spread of bacteria. The main symptoms are facial paralysis (sometimes bilateral), numbness in the face, deafness, diplopia*, headache, nuchal pain or stiffness, photophobia*, nausea, and vomiting.
It appears between a few days after the erythema migrans and a few weeks after the infection, usually up to 6 months after the bite.
*Diplopia: This is the double vision of a single object.
*Photophobia: This is a hypersensitivity to light, which can cause headaches and eye pain.
Lyme carditis is a cardiac disorder that occurs in response to the spread of bacteria. The main manifestation of this is a disorder of the electrical conduction between the atria and ventricles (atrioventricular blocks). The main symptoms are palpitations, dizziness, syncope, chest pain, dyspnoea*.
It appears between a few days after the isolated erythema migrans and a few weeks after the infection, usually up to 6 months after the bite.
*Dyspnoea: This is a subjective feeling of tightness in the chest, resulting in difficulty in breathing.
Lyme arthritis is an inflammation of one or more joints. The symptoms are swollen joints, usually in the knees.
The arthritis appears a few weeks to a few months after the infection, usually up to a year after the bite.
How to avoid and repel ticks in humans
The right precautionsDuring outdoor activities, walking in the forest or even gardening, it is strongly recommended to:
- Wear clothing which covers the whole body, including the legs, ideally light coloured – this will help you to help spot ticks
- Wear a cap or hat
- Wear closed shoes (with trousers tucked into socks)
- Use an effective repellent on the clothes and body, and reapply regularly!
- Walk in the centre of paths and tracks, avoiding tall grass and brushwood etc
- Do not sit or lie on the ground, use a large light-coloured blanket, including for picnics
- Shower within 2 hours after the outing and inspect the whole body, both visually and by touch
We advise you to use an effective tick repellent, which you apply to your clothes and/or body. Make sure you reapply regularly, as the effectiveness can vary between 4 and 5 hours depending on the products used.
At Puressentiel, we have a complete range of repellents for all ages, to help you defend yourself against mosquitoes, ticks and other biting insects.
Our products are guaranteed to be free of synthetic perfumes, preservatives, neurotoxic insect repellents and propellants.
Repellent Spray or Roller Face and Body
- A double action spray
- A convenient rollerball format
- Dermatologically tested
- Safe to use from 30 months+
Repellent Spray for sensitive skin
- Ideal for the whole family
- Immediate and long-lasting hydration
- Tested under paediatric and dermatological control
- Safe to use from 6 months+
Repellent Spray for Clothing and Fabrics
- 100% plant-based active ingredients
Spray ou Roller Répulsif Bébé
- Suitable for sensitive skin
- Tested under paediatric and dermatological control
- Safe to use from 6 months+
- Free from neurotoxic insect repellents
¹ Protection time against ticks
* with organic essential oils
Use Puressentiel Bite & Sting products with care. Read the labels and product information before use.
What are the risks of tick bites for animals?
Ticks are dangerous to pets because they can transmit a number of serious diseases, some of which can unfortunately be fatal, including the following::
- Piroplasmosis, also called babesiosis, which is caused by a blood parasite
- Ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, and rickettiosis, which are bacterial diseases
- Borreliosis, also called Lyme disease
- Hepatozoonosis, a rare parasitic disease in France, contracted by ingestion of a tick
How can I protect my dog from ticks?
- Be careful when playing with your pet and avoid games that encourage the pet to scratch or bite
- Avoid biting and scratching wherever possible
- If a bite or scratch occurs, disinfect the wound immediately
- Avoid approaching unknown cats or dogs - if you are forced to do so, wash your hands thoroughly after contact and avoid touching your face or eyes. If the animal bites or scratches you, disinfect the wound immediately and monitor your condition in the weeks that follow.
How can I protect my dog from ticks?
The first thing to do to protect your pet is to inspect it thoroughly after every outdoor trip. As with humans, ticks like to lodge in areas where the skin is thinner and in "hidden" areas, so you should routinely check the groin, armpits, between the fingers, around and inside the ears, on the neck (remember to check under the collar), the abdomen, around the eyes, and even the gums.
A cat's flexibility allows it to remove bitten ticks itself, except on the head between the ears. In dogs, who are less flexible, it’s less easy for them to reach all areas of their bodies themselves.
To further protect your dog, you can use a variety of anti-parasite or anti-tick products. Make sure that the product you use is active against ticks, but also that it stays on the coat permanently so that it can kill them before they have time to attach.
For best results, use products that are water resistant and so retain all their properties in wet weather.
Ask your vet to prescribe the most suitable product for you. Remember that a tick treatment must be regularly renewed, and that protection is rarely 100%.
Be careful, and never use an anti-tick product intended for dogs on a cat without the advice of your vet. Some of these products can be fatal for cats.
If you want to use natural products for your pet, we have a recipe for a repellent. Use only on dogs, and apply it before each outing.
Recipe for natural tick-repellent for dogs:
Pour 5ml of dispersant for essential oils (available in pharmacies), 30ml of Lavender or Geranium Hydrolate, 5 drops of Java Citronella essential oil, 5 drops of Geranium essential oil and 2 drops of True Lavender essential oil into a spray bottle. Shake the mixture well. Spray the coat before going out.
How do I remove a tick from my pet? (Dog, cat, horse)
Use the same method as for humans. Take a tick hook, spread the animal's hair, and place the tick hook as close to the skin as possible. Turn it gently until the tick detaches. Immediately disinfect the animal's skin with an antiseptic designed for this use.
Together, we can avoid diseases transmitted by ticks!
Let's be vigilant and protect ourselves effectively and naturally, with help from Puressentiel Bite & Sting!
Puressentiel works with France Lyme to prevent and raise awareness of the risks of tick bites!
Created in 2008, France Lyme is a non-profit association of patients (2100 members) recognised as being of general interest and approved by the Ministry of Health.
It is present in 20 local areas, working to achieve 4 missions:
- Listening to and supporting patients: it has a trained and qualified listening service, and a referral service to guide patients
- Raising awareness around tick-borne diseases (of which Lyme borreliosis is the best known): the association receives more than 150,000 unique visitors per year (and 500,000 pages read) and carries out prevention missions against ticks in the field
- Developing knowledge by promoting research on diagnosis and treatment
- Defending and representing patients, at both national and local levels
Doctor Franck Gigon, General Practitioner, Paris, Member of the Editorial Board of the journal "Phytotherapy from research to practice".
Santé publique France
France Lyme Association
High Authority for Health
French Federation against Tick-borne Diseases
National Institute for Excellence in Health and Social Services: Localized and disseminated stages of Lyme disease
Excerpts from the book "ESSENTIAL OILS, VEGETABLE OILS & HYDROLATES: My Essentials", by Isabelle Pacchioni, published by Aroma Thera.
European Scientific Counsel Companion Animal Parasites