By Alastair Robertson
MY WIFE'S BEST FRIEND from Somerset writes to say her dogs have had ticks ALL winter. Can you beleeeeve it!!!! Like a great many women with dogs, and some, I am sure, without, my wife's best friend writes in exclamation marks. I don't mind; it's very nice that she writes. I just wonder what it all means. Does the number of exclamation marks denote the seriousness of the situation or event? How should we react to two exclamation marks? Are three permissible? These are mysteries to which no man shall be privy.
But ticks on the dogs all winter is probably worth the regulatory four !!!! The best friend and tiresome husband do admittedly live in a particularly bracken-ridden part of the land which is hopping with ticks. But I can tell you that the tick problem is far worse in the Highlands, thanks to my favourite scourge, global warming.
The real problem with ticks is that they carry Lyme disease, which makes you feel as if you have permanent flu. And that's the mild version. Infection can lead to facial palsy, "viral type" meningitis and nerve inflammation, tingling in hands and feet, or clumsiness. Some people develop arthritic symptoms. Some believe that it may also be a trigger for ME or chronic fatigue syndrome.
So if you are of a country sporting disposition keen on dogs, heather and the wild places – watch it. The ticks thrive in damp warmish spots like heather and woodlands and cling to deer and sheep and dogs and hares – anything from which they can get a good meal, including us.
The ticks are killed off by hard winters. But we have not had a hard winter for years. A few days of snow is not like three weeks of sub-zero temperatures.
As it happens, the expert on Lyme disease in Scotland is at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness. People used to bribe ambulance drivers to take them to Perth rather than Raigmore, but these days it is terrific and if your doctor suspects you have been bitten by a tick he will send your blood sample to Dr Darrel Ho-Yen, co-author of Ticks, Your Pets, Your Family and You – a favourite with Highland landladies. The weather has been so mild that the tick department has been getting samples all winter.
I'll let you do the arithmetic, but the occurrence of Lyme disease in Scotland is 1.25 per 100,000 people. In the Highlands it is as much as 16.5 per 100,000. So don't tangle with the Highland tick. There is, however, a more comforting statistic and that is that Raigmore has improved detection rates by 30 per cent. One of the difficulties with Lyme disease, which gets its name from Old Lyme in Connecticut, where they were all struck down one year, is that it is not something your average urban GP comes across very often. Would he or she recognise it? Possibly not, thinks Dr Ho-Yen. It takes the form of a rash which can be treated with the same antibiotics as earache. But if that doesn't work, it's Plan B and keep your fingers crossed. Like most of us, though, you might never get it.
Dr Ho-Yen's co-author, George Hendry, says that once you get back from the hills check for ticks and pull them out with tweezers, not your fingers. Global warming!!!! Who'd have it!!!!