Ticks live in wooded, bushy areas with high grass or bracken and lots of leaf litter. They can be carried by various animals, including dogs, cats, sheep, deer, rats, humans and even birds. This means they can potentially live in almost any grassy area of the UK. As this page shows, ticks do not just live in certain hotspots but are spread across the UK.
There is no vaccine for Lyme disease although one is currently being developed. The most effective form of medication for Lyme is prevention.
This means either living in an area without ticks or regularly checking for them.
Tick repellents – DEET based
You can also apply tick repellents to reduce the likelihood of being bitten in the first place. The science of tick repellents is incredibly complex as the paper Tick repellents: Past, present and future shows: “Numerous studies have shown that susceptibility to a repellent varies between tick species…and life stages.” (Bissinger et al. 2010: 65)
DEET sprays are definitely effective at lowering the chance of being bitten, however the duration of its effectiveness can be short lived and it needs to be regularly reapplied to be effective (Bissinger et al. 2010, Bissinger et al. 2011). A new product, with DEET incorporated into liposomes, prolongs effectiveness and reduces absorption through the skin (Salafsky et al. 1999). One of our members uses LipoDEET products as well as citronella oil (see below) if they go into tick infected areas. One such product is called Sawyer Ultra 30 DEET 3-oz. Lotion.
Tick repellents – Permethrin based
For more information on Permethrin, Tom Grier has written an interesting overview of the subject. According to him:
* DEET needs to be applied regularly and can only work as it is evaporating. Permethrin works for weeks after it has dried inside clothing fibers.
* DEET is applied directly to the skin and can be absorbed through the skin. Permethrin is applied to clothing only and has limited contact to the skin.
* DEET has a detectable odor. Permethrin smells only until it dries.
* DEET does not kill or disable ticks and is a poor repellent. Permethrin works instantly and is extremely effective. It is the tick repellent of choice by the military.
* DEET can melt synthetic clothes like nylon. Permethrin causes no damage to any known cloth or synthetic fiber.
* DEET products are easy to find. Permethrin is hard to find and more expensive.
* DEET is an effective fish repellent. Permethrin’s effect on fish is unknown.
Tick repellents – plant based
There has been a lot of research on plant based alternatives to DEET (Bissinger et al. 2010), although some of them are potentially toxic and only effective for short periods of time and for certain species of ticks. Relatively few plant based repellents have been commercialized. Some people say that combining citronella, tea-tree and lavender oil and putting it on you can deter ticks. There is a 2006 study which found that the oils of “citronella, cloves and lily of the valley….possessed repelling activities of the same magnitude as the reference repellent DEET” for the species Ixodes ricinu.” (Thorsell 2006)  Similarly a 2010 study found the extract of Citronella “stood out because of the long-lasting repellence, maintaining, in the highest concentration, 35 h of protection against 90% of the nymphs” of the species Amblyomma cajennense (Soares et al. 2010)
A plant based commercial alternative to DEET has been developed, called ContraZeck, which is sold in Germany (See Schwantes et al. 2008, Bissinger et al. 2010: 75) Another product, BioUD spray, based on Wild tomato, seems to be more effective (Bissinger et al. 2010: 75-76). Oil of lemon eucalyptus, which can be bought in different forms, is also effective (Bissinger et al. 2010: 75-76). Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent Pump Spray is one such product.
Garlic and Astralagus
Some people say that regularly eating raw garlic or garlic capsules reduces the likelihood of being bitten by ticks. However, there is little scientific evidence for this. One paper did find taking 1200 mg/d garlic capsules daily reduced tick bites by 21% (Stjernberg 2000), however this is very low compared to the effectiveness of the above mentioned tick repellents. One paper says that garlic is a “useless measure to prevent insects from biting” (Rudin: 2005)
The herbalist Stephen Buhner recommends taking Astralagus (Astralagus membranaceous or A. membranaceous var. mongholicus, aka A. mongholicus) at tonic doses all year long “for preventing Lyme infection or lessening disease infection in case of infection: 1,000mg 2x daily.” (Buhner 2005: 124) We have seen no scientific evidence for this.
There are two approaches for clothing to prevent ticks. The first one is to wear as many clothes as possible to cover your whole body, to tuck your trousers into your socks and your shirt into your trousers. This will help prevent the ticks from getting on to your body. Ideally you would wear lightly coloured clothes so you can see any ticks crawling on you.
The second is be as naked as much as possible so that you and others can more easily see if you have ticks crawling on your body. It is recommended to try to combine both. We recommend regularly showering and checking yourself after being in a tick-infected area.
Regular tick checks
Because the likelihood of contracting Lyme disease increases with the length of time the tick is on your body, it is best to check regularly. The removal of ticks within 24-36 hours of it biting can reduce transmission rates, although as Vanderhoof-Forschner point out, “13% of ticks are systemically infected and therefore transmit disease in less than 24 hours.” (Vanderhoof-Forschner: 26). There is a lot of research out there showing that transmission can occur within 24 hours.
We recommended checking twice a day to be sure – once in the morning and once in the evening.
It is important to check thoroughly and with good light because some ticks can be very small and hard to detect. It is important that someone else checks the back of your legs, bum, back, neck, arm-pits, behind your ears as well as on your upper chest and your face. You can check the rest of the front of your body. Ticks can also get onto your scalp – the only way to easily check there is to cut your hair short, although you might also be able to feel them
If you are by yourself in the countryside then we would recommend taking two mirrors with you to be able to check your whole body. However it is difficult, if not impossible, to get ticks off certain parts of your body without the help of other people. We would strongly recommend being with other people in the countryside if you plan to spend long periods there.
Some people are resistant to being checked for ticks because they are self-conscious about their body and/or they don’t think that they normally got ticks. Some people seem to be able to feel or sense them more than others. Some people always feel them crawling on their bodies and biting in to them, while others do not.
For some of our members it is important to see tick checks as a way of helping us getting over the self consciousness and insecurity that so many of us have about our own bodies. It is little surprise that we have these feelings after living in a society which bombards us with images of ‘perfect’ bodies which we are supposed to want to look like, where we are normally covered in clothes and often learn that nakedness is only associated with sex.
Pulling ticks out
When removing ticks it is very important to take the whole tick out. If the head, or any part of the tick remains, dig it out with a sharp metal object like a knife or tweezers. Do not squeeze the tick, try to burn it off or cover it in vaseline. This can cause it to pass infection.
Make sure that you thoroughly check after removing a tick that nothing has been left behind. Some say that if you leave any part of the tick inside of you it can increase the chance of passing the disease. If you can, disinfect the tick bite area after pulling the tick out to prevent infection with other diseases. Make sure that you also sterilise the tick remover over a flame if it is made of metal before and after you use it to prevent infection or the spread of other diseases
There are many different models of tick removers – a good model is the one shown below. It is important to be calm and patient when removing ticks as it can be easy to leave the head in.
Bissinger et al. (2010) Tick repellents: Past, present, and future, Pesticide Biochemistry and Physiology 96 (2010) 63–79,
Bissinger et al. (2011) ‘Novel field assays and the comparative repellency of BioUD®, DEET and permethrin against Amblyomma americanum’, Medical and Veterinary Entomology, Volume 25, Issue 2, pages 217–226, June 2011
Buhner, Stephen Harrold (2005) Healing Lyme: Natural Healing and Prevention of Lyme Borreliosis and Its Coinfections, Raven Press, Silver City
Rudin, W (2005) Protection against insects, Ther Umsch. 2005 Nov;62(11):713-8.
Salfsky, B, et al. (1999) DEVELOPMENT AND EVALUATION OF LIPODEET, A NEW LONG-ACTING FORMULATION OF N, N-DIETHYL-m-TOLUAMIDE (DEET) FOR THE PREVENTION OF SCHISTOSOMIASIS, Am. J. Trop. Med. Hyg., 61(5), 1999, pp. 743–750
Schwantes et al. (2008) Prevention of infectious tick-borne diseases in humans: Comparative studies of the repellency of different dodecanoic acid-formulations against Ixodes ricinus ticks (Acari: Ixodidae), Parasites & Vectors 2008, 1:8
Soares et al. (2010) Repellent activity of plant-derived compounds against Amblyomma cajennense (Acari: Ixodidae) nymphs, Veterinary Parasitology, Volume 167, Issue 1, 20 January 2010, Pages 67-73
Stjernberg, L. et al. (2000) Garlic as an insect repellent, Journal of The American Medical Association August 16, 2000; 284.
Vanderhoof-Forschner, Karen (2003) Everything you need to know about Lyme Disease and other Tick-borne Disorders, Wiley, New Jersey
 One problem in the research and development of new tick repellents is “the lack of a standardized testing methods” (Bissinger et al. 2010: 65)
 Even though DEET is highly effective, the duration of action of DEET appears to be short lived. Once applied to the skin, DEET has an insect repellent activity ranging from 30 min to 6 hr,… whereas its antiparasitic effect is even shorter. To obtain a longer duration of activity, there is a need to reapply DEET, often repeatedly with concentrations as high as 70%. This is due to the fact that DEET is absorbed through the skin relatively quickly and is thus rapidly cleared from the skin. Therefore, any agent that retards the absorption of DEET through the skin will potentially prolong the repellency, or in this case the anti-parasitic action of DEET in the superficial layers of the skin. Furthermore, a reduced absorption will potentially decrease any systemic toxicity associated with DEET. (Salafsky et al. 1999)
 “Among the various formulations analyzed, DEET incorporated into liposomes (LIPODEET) appeared to prolong the activity of DEET for more than 48 hr after a single application. Furthermore, LIPODEET was found to be minimally absorbed through the skin and loss due to washing off was limited.” (Salafsky et al. 1999)
 See pages 69 – 76 of Bissinger at al. 2010 for a long list of different plants tried. Also: “There is the popular belief that compounds of plant origin are benign and harmless to the user. Increasing the concentration of plant essential oils can increase efficacy, but high concentrations may also cause contact dermatitis. Additionally, many plant extracts that provide repellency against ticks exhibit toxic effects in vertebrates. For example, eugenol is an eye and skin irritant and has been shown to be mutagenic and tumerogenic…it has been suggested that repellent compounds with toxic attributes be used as clothing treatments rather than for application directly to human skin.” (Bissinger et al. 2010: 73)
 “Although a number of plants and plant-compounds are repellent, relatively few have been commercialized. In some cases the cost of the extraction of pure bioactive compounds may be low. The active ingredients in many commercially available anthropod repellents were originally isolated from a plant or other natural source but are mass-produced synthetically. A synthetic preparation can be beneficial because of the potential of obtaining high purity and concentration of the active [substance]” (Bissinger et al. 2010: 74)
 “The repellent effects on nymphal stages of Ixodes ricinus L. of some plant materials have been studied in the laboratory. The plant material consisted of an ethanolic extract from Achillea millefolium L., and volatile oils of birch and/or pine tar, citronella, cloves, eucalyptus, geranium, lavender, lily of the valley and peppermint. The most pronounced effects were observed for the oils of citronella, cloves and lily of the valley. They possessed repelling activities of the same magnitude as the reference repellent DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide). Some major constituents of these oils, e.g. citronellol and geraniol (oil of citronella and lily of the valley) and eugenol (oil of cloves) showed pronounced repelling effects. This was also the case for phenethyl alcohol, a minor component in the oil from lily of the valley.” (Thorsell 2006)
 For a fascinating literature review of the use and effectiveness of insect repellents, have a look at Tick repellents: Past, present, and future by Brooke W. Bissinger and R. Michael Roe
 Please note that the authors seem to work for the company producing ContraZec
 “Ingested compounds like garlic and vitamin B1 and ultrasonic sound devices do not repel mosquitoes and probably do not repel ticks.” reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in their Tick Management Handbook (Stafford, Kirby: 43).
 The whole quote: “While tick transmission of Lyme disease in the United States is estimated at 24 to 48 hours, recent European research indicates that 50% of their Ixodes ticks can transmit the disease within 17 hours of attachment (…) One of the least studied and most intriguing features of ticks is that some are systematically infected with pathogens found both in the midgut (stomach) and salivary glands while others are infected locally, with the agent present only in the midgut. The distinction is very important. With Lyme disease, for example, a systemically infected tick may be able to transmit a pathogen in only a few hours whereas a tick with a localized infection may take 24 to 48 hours to move the bacteria into its salivary glands so that transmission can occur..
“Ticks that have started to feed and become dislodged and then reattach to another host will transmit the disease in a shorter time period. This is because the first feeding started the Lyme bacteria’s journey from the tick’s midgut to its salivary glands. By the time the tick has reattached, the bacteria are already in the salivary glands and ready to enter the host. European research found that 13% of ticks are systemically infected and therefore transmit disease in less than 24 hours.” (Vanderhoof-Forschner: 26)