I’ve just come back from a lovely break in Cumbria, staying not far from Grange-Over-Sands, near Whitbarrow National Nature Reserve. It’s an area of special scientific interest due its exceptional limestone habitats created as a result of the last ice age. As the ice retreated, it exposed the limestone to the elements and over time, an uncommon collection of boulders, crevices and escarpments was formed around the imposing rock face of Whitebarrow Scar, which can be seen from miles around.
There were some lovely walks, including one to the summit of Whitbarrow, which I, my friends and our canine companion Roly, completed. Although the climb was hard, it was worth it for the spectacular 360-degree views from the top. We could see Morcambe Bay to the south, the fells of the Lake District to the north, Ingleborough in the Dales to the east, and Furness peninsula to the west.
Much of Whitbarrow is covered in trees, and the descent took us through some lush green woodland. At this time of year, not only does the area attract human visitors, it also seems to be the prime leisure resort for hungry ticks.
Even though I look after dogs, I don’t often come across ticks, probably because most of my guests are protected against them by various methods such as special collars, pills or potions. Also, where I live is not a particularly popular tick hideout. Cumbria, though, with its abundance of lakes, woodlands, sheep and deer, is a tick’s idea of Nirvana.
Unfortunately, Roly was unwell recently, and during treatment had his tick collar removed, which meant that he was temporarily unprotected from these greedy little blood suckers.
The squeamish among you might want to stop reading now, because the day after the walk, we spotted one of the blighters near Roly’s eye. This was not the last, and over the following days, more kept appearing, either on Roly’s body, or crawling across the floor. Yes, it was gross (and if, like me, you’ve ever accidentally stood on a replete, post-gorging tick, you’ll know exactly how gross).
This led me to do some in-depth research on these horrible yet strangely fascinating creepy crawlies. The reason they are so difficult to spot initially is because they are quite tiny, but then their bodies swell up to many times their original size while they feed on the blood of their living host. If you haven’t already removed them, once they have had their fill, which can be up to seven days later, they drop off to go and find a suitable place to lay eggs.
Although thinking about what ticks do makes me shudder, most of the time, they are pretty harmless. However, there is a small risk of contracting the serious illness, Lyme disease, which is carried by those that have previously fed on infected animals.
Therefore, if you have been bitten by a tick, it’s important to remove it as quickly as possible, ensuring you do not squeeze the body or leave any of the mouth parts behind in the skin for fear of infection. You can get special tools to do this, or use a pair of tweezers, but do look up how to do it properly, as you could cause problems by getting it wrong.
You also need to keep an eye on the area for several weeks afterwards, and if you notice a slow-developing circular rash, or start to feel unwell with flu-like symptoms, then do go and see your doctor as soon as possible.
I can’t find any record of traditional beliefs relating to tick bites, but there are when it comes to other members of our insect population, particularly bees, as my dad mentions in his column from 9th June 1979. It was a long-held belief that bee stings could cure arthritis and other painful joint conditions. Indeed, someone my dad knew, who had a persistently painful thumb, reported that he had been stung after putting on a gardening glove with a bee hiding in it. From that day, his thumb was never sore again.
This is not just the stuff of old wives’ tales. Today, research is ongoing into the curative benefits of bee venom, although some trial patients have reported that the pain of the venom injections is worse than the condition itself.
I wonder if any arthritic readers have ever tried bee-sting therapy?
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