Published: 13:05, 08 May 2019
| Updated: 14:57, 08 May 2019
Kent ranks alongside northern Italy, Romania and Norway as a hotbed for blood-sucking ticks carrying Lyme disease, according to a new report.
The county has been ranked as one of the worst areas in Europe for the parasites - alongside London, East Sussex and parts of Essex in the South East.
The evidence has been compiled by experts from across Europe, including scientists from the University of East London, who combed through seven years worth of cases of bites from a type of tick called Ixodes ricinus.
This is the breed which spreads the Lyme disease carrying bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato.
They warn because ticks breed best in warm weather, global warning will only spark a jump in their population, making then widespread across the UK - and much of the rest of Europe.
The South East danger zone is on a par with northern Italy, Romania, Switzerland and Norway when it comes to "very high" populations of the critters, creating a severe risk.
It has sparked a warning to holidaymakers if they are concerned about encountering the disease-carrying bugs.
The map below shows risk areas - including the central Netherlands, Copenhagen in Denmark and the coastal area near Gdansk, northern Poland.
Writing in the International Journal of Health Geographics, the study’s authors warn: “The distribution of Ixodes ricinus continues to expand northwards in latitude and upwards in altitude in Europe.
“Climate trends and the density of key hosts for the adults of the tick, have been pointed as the main factors behind the spread of Ixodes ricinus.”
The scientists also studied geographical and climate data better understand what type of environment causes these ticks to thrive.
They found that ticks thrive in areas with a yearly average temperature of between 6.8ºc and 16.8ºc, meaning the UK's mean temperatures of 9ºC-11ºC put it right in the danger zone.
The data also said areas where they thrive include areas with a low and gradual rise in spring temperatures, and a big rise in spring vegetation.
The authors add: “The highest prevalence occurs in areas of 280°–290° Kelvin (6.85ºC - 16.85ºC) of mean annual temperature - around central Europe and southern parts of Nordic countries - and a slow spring rise of temperature, together with high mean values and a moderate spring rise of vegetation vigor.”
Meanwhile other maps looked at how predicted increases in temperature caused by climate change could see ticks carrying a certain strain of the bacteria which causes Lyme disease becoming widespread across the UK - and much of the rest of Europe.
There are lots of different strains of this Borrelia bacteria, including Borrelia afzelii, burgdorferi, garinii, lusitaniae, spielmanii and valaisiana - all of which cause Lyme disease in humans.
It’s the ‘B. afzelii’ strain that looks particularly dangerous in the UK, with red ‘very high’ zones spread around London and south west Essex, Brighton to the south, and across to the eastern coast of Kent.
There is also a hot spot of the strain B. garinii in the New Forest National Park between Southampton and Bournemouth.
If you are scared of ticks carrying infectious diseases on your holidays abroad, you might want to consider avoiding other European areas such as:
France:There are clusters near the cities of Lyon and St Etienne, as well as Orient Forest Regional Natural Park further north near Troyes.
Italy: The mountainous northern areas near Trento, and further east to the Slovenian border.
Norway: The entire southern coastline is also rife.
Leading UK pest control expert Mario Stanchev says Brits need to be vigilant - whether at home or abroad.
Mario, a technician with UK firm Fantastic Services, says: “Ticks have been known to infest homes, both here and abroad, and you need to take precautions to stop that happening.
“Whether you’re travelling abroad this summer, or you’re simply out and about in one of the UK hotspots identified by this study, you should use a chemical repellent containing DEET (N,N-Diethyl-m-toluamide) to keep the creatures at bay.
“You should also wear light-coloured protective clothing that covers the skin, as well as tucking your trousers into your socks.
“What’s also vital is that you check your children and pets for any sign of a bite.
“And don’t assume that ticks only live in the forests or wild outdoor areas - they could just as easily be lurking in long grass in your garden, just waiting for you to walk past so they can hitch a ride.”
Mario says that if you do find ticks in your home, it is important to catch one of them and to place it in a sealed bag or container.
He says: “Keep the tick for 30 days, just in case you or any members of your family start to experience any of the symptoms of Lyme disease.
“This tick specimen can then be analysed by doctors to either confirm or deny the presence of the bacteria.
“You might also want to return the tick to Public Health England, which has a tick recording and surveillance programme.
“You should also get into the habit of inspecting pets, children and yourself whenever you venture into green spaces - and that includes even small parks in city centres.
“As this study proves, you never know where they might lurk.”
According to the NHS, the most obvious sign you might have Lyme disease is a circular red ‘bullseye’ skin rash around a tick bite.
The NHS website also says: “Some people also have flu-like symptoms in the early stages, such as a high temperature, or feeling hot and shivery, headaches, muscle and joint pain,
tiredness and loss of energy.”
It’s also vital you learn how to remove a tick safely from your body.
The Fantastic Services team say that to remove a tick safely, use fine-tipped tweezers or a tick-removal tool.
Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Slowly pull upwards, taking care not to squeeze or crush the tick.
And then clean the bite with antiseptic or soap and water.
Worryingly, cases of the disease are rising rapidly in the UK.
Last year Public Health England (PHE) revealed how confirmed Lyme disease infections had shot-up 35% between 2016 and 2017, with around 1,000 cases every year.
More by this authorBeth Robson