CUMBRIANS are being warned to prepare for a mass infestation of ticks this summer in the aftermath of the winter flooding.
The wet, mild winter has provided perfect breeding conditions for the blood-sucking parasites, which can carry the potentially fatal Lyme disease.
The UK has seen a surge in numbers of ticks during the past 20 years, which zoology experts have said can be blamed on climate change – leading to warmer and damper weather.
South Lakeland is a known hotspot for the arachnids, which thrive in woodland and moorland areas.
The small, spider-shaped creatures lurk in grass, bracken and undergrowth and feed on the blood of passing people and their pets, meaning dog walkers are particularly at risk.
Ticks can stay attached for several days before they finish feeding and drop off.
Because their bites are usually painless many people only realise they have been bitten if they see one attached to them.
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Advice from South Lakeland District Council’s environmental health department says: “It is difficult to avoid ticks, so the best strategy is to be aware and check yourself, children and pets for ticks whenever you have been to a place they may be present.
“It is particularly important to check armpits, groins, the backs of knees, around the waist, the neck and head.
“If you find a tick, remove it as soon as possible.”
People can remove ticks from themselves or their pets by using tweezers, putting them close to the skin, pressing, then twisting out.
People who have been bitten should keep an eye out for a red rash developing around the bite, said to be similar to the bullseye on a dartboard, and go to their GP if one appears.
Lyme disease, if left untreated, can lead to joint swelling, muscle pain, a high temperature and even facial paralysis and heart attacks.
But if caught early, it can be treated with antibiotics.
David Harpley, conservation manager at Cumbria Wildlife Trust, agreed the area was likely to see an increase this year due to the mild winter.
“There are lots in places like Hutton Roof, Whitbarrow Scar – anywhere with bracken and rough vegetation.
“The best thing you can do is avoid getting bitten in the first place – wearing wellingtons is a good idea, wearing light trousers and stopping every so often to check and brush them off if you see any on you.”
Dr Tim Brooks, head of Public Health England’s rare and imported pathogens laboratory, which tests samples for Lyme disease, said: “There is not yet an effective vaccine against Lyme disease so tick awareness, avoidance of tick infested areas if possible, the use of appropriate clothing in areas where ticks are more common and early removal of attached ticks remain the most important prevention measures people can take to protect themselves and their families.”
Gerard Winnard, of Westmorland Veterinary Group, said dog owners could help protect their pets with products that repel ticks.
“There are quite a few on the market so it’s best people talk with their vets first.
“The other things they can do are to check the animal when they get back from a walk and buy a tick remover.”