Critters

Slithery, crawling, buzzing, biting critters. Now that the sun has come out, (who am I trying to kid?) there are critters all over the place. Being the UK most of these are harmless, but some can be annoying and we do have the odd nasty.
Adders and Ticks are the two that seem to be hitting the headlines again in one way or another, so, being a nice chap, I'm going to let you all in on a few facts about the dynamic duo so you don't have to hunt the web or take a chance with online encyclopaedias. I'll start with my favourite...
The Adder (the good guy)
Handsome little bugger isn't he...
In the UK the Adder is the only native venomous snake. He is not a killer though, not in the last 20 years or so anyway, so seeing one is no cause to panic. He's a placid guy, and would prefer to slope off and hide rather than come at you waving his fangs. If you are bitten though, you should recover after a while suffering only bruising, feeling sick, and sleepy. I'm not saying don't seek medical help, far from it. Get to a Dr as soon as possible. As for first aid, there isn't any. All you can do is to try and immobilise the affected limb, calm and reassure the victim. DO NOT try and do the Hollywood thing and suck out the poison from an adder bite or any other bite for that matter, from anything, ever, just don't OK!
Adders are protected by law so don't kill one if you see it, don't even handle it as this is after all how most people get bitten in the first place, and don't think you could make a quick buck by selling it to your mate who loves snakes, cos this is illegal too.
You can tell the adder by its dark zigzag running down its back and dark spots down the sides. If you get close enough to look him in the eye, you'll see a red eye that is split vertically (top to bottom). Don't think that if you find a black snake it's only a grass snake because this is also a variation of the adders clothing. He, or should I say she, is an odd one. She does not lay eggs like most reptiles but gives birth to perfectly formed little versions of herself.

Not an Adder, I just couldn't resist showing off one of my mates

I personally would be more worried about the next critter on my list...
The Tick (the bad guy)
Not such a handsome beast...
In fact, I'd go so far as to say these are ugly little ba****ds, and possibly one of my least favourite living things. They're vampires after all, living on the blood of birds, some reptiles, or any mammal that happens to walk past, including you and me! Because they can suck the blood of just about anything, they can carry the nasties that may be found in just about anything too. They can even pass on disease to its young, so larva, nymph and adult, are capable of transmitting diseases on to you. 
They usually live in moist shady areas of grass, on bushes or in leaf litter. They are most active in the summer months but don't rule out a bite in a warmer winter. Don't think that your safe because you live in London away from the countryside. Ticks are plentiful in London's parks and cases of Lyme disease have been found there too.
Some people will tell you that a tick has to be on you for two or three days for you to get a disease from one, basically that's rubbish! There are LOADS of tick borne nasties for you to catch, but most are spread around the globe, so I stick to our local ones!
Ehrlichia for example can be passed on to you almost immediately a tick sticks its blood sucker in to you, and that's the thanks you get for taking a tick off your dog. Thankfully this is rare in the UK, so far. Babesiosis is another gift from out 8 legged friends. Babesiosis has symptoms similar to my old nemesis, malaria. Shaking chills, fever and anaemia are on the list along with other delights such as sudden cardiac death and/or respiratory failure. Again, luckily this is rare in the UK but young, old or people with immunodeficiency disorders are most at risk. Lyme disease, or Lyme borreliosis is the most common disease that our friend the tick can leave us with. Early symptoms may include fever, headache, fatigue, depression, and a characteristic circular skin rash called erythema migrans (see picture above) Left untreated, later symptoms may involve the joints, heart, and central nervous system. In most cases, the infection and its symptoms are eliminated by antibiotics, especially if the illness is treated early. 

In the UK, medical education is variable regarding tick borne diseases. Your GP may not know about the little annoying arachnids so it is up to you to drum it into him or her that you are seeing the Dr because of symptoms linked to a tick bite. Be careful with self diagnosis as there is loads of tick info on the web, but alas, much of it either wrong or just out of date.
Removing Ticks  
Now I know this is going to start an argument as some say pull and some say twist. I am in the twist group here as I have learnt from experience. If you have one, use a tick removal tool, if you don't have one, I'll sell you one ;o) failing that most pet shops and campng or outdoor clothing shops sell them. Grab the tick as close to the skin as possible and gently twist the little critter out. Making sure you get it all and don't leave any mouth parts behind.
  • DO cleanse the bite site and the tweezers with antiseptic after removing the tick.
  • DO wash your hands afterwards.
  • DO save the tick if possible, or take a photo of it in case you develop symptoms later*.
  • DO NOT squeeze the body of the tick., as this may inject its stomach contents into the wound.
  • DO NOT use your fingernails to remove a tick. Infection can enter via any breaks in your skin.
  • DO NOT try to burn the tick off, use Vaseline to shift it, or use nail polish or any other chemical. these methods can cause the tick to regurgitate, or release saliva, the last thing you want, when it's mouth is buried in your skin.
*The Health Protection Agency are currently running a scheme to investigate ticks, details available at www.lymediseaseaction.org.uk/information/tick.htm or from the HPA at www.hpa.org.uk.

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