People who take part in outdoor pursuits are being reminded to protect themselves against Lyme disease this summer, which is spread by the bite of a tick.
Most cases of Lyme disease are very mild, however in a minority of cases, it can cause severe heart and nervous system problems.
"Ticks are tiny spider-like creatures that feed on the blood of mammals and birds and will also feed on humans. Ticks are more numerous and more active in the summer months and protecting against tick bites protects against Lyme disease," explained HSE specialist in public health medicine, Dr Paul McKeown.
Ticks walk on the ground and climb plants and they latch on to passing people or animals by using hooks on their legs. They tend to be found in shady and humid woodland, clearings with grass and open fields and bushes.
They can be found in both rural and urban areas and are active from spring to autumn. For this reason, cases of Lyme disease tend to be most often seen from April onwards.
"Only a minority of ticks carry infection. If a tick is removed within the first few hours, the risk of infection is low. The entire tick, including any mouthparts which might break off, should be removed with a tweezers by gripping it close to the skin.
"The skin where the tick was found should then be washed with soap and water and the area checked over the next few weeks for swelling or redness. Anyone who develops a rash or other symptoms should visit their GP and explain that they have been bitten by a tick," Dr McKeown said.
He noted that cases of a more severe type of lyme disease, known as neuroborreliosis, must be reported to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) by doctors and laboratories. There are around 10-20 cases of this disease reported every year in Ireland.
The HSE warned that as many people do not even know that they have been infected with lyme disease, or do not seek medical help when unwell, the true incidence of the condition is unknown here.
It is likely that there are at least 100-200 cases of the milder form of lyme disease every year, Dr McKeown pointed out.
"People are more likely to engage in outdoor pursuits in the spring and summer months. Ramblers, campers, mountain bikers, and others who work and walk in forested or grassy areas should protect themselves against tick bites," he added.
Tick bites can be prevented by:
-Wearing long trousers, long-sleeved shirts and shoes
-Wearing a hat and tucking in hair
-Using an insect repellant, one that preferably contains DEET
-Checking the skin and hair for ticks after a day out, especially the necks and scalps of children
Instructions on how to remove a tick can be seen here