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Infectious diseases

Infectious diseases

Infectious diseases are infections that can be passed from one person to another. Infections can also be passed on to humans from birds, insects and animals. Malaria is an example of this, as is E. coli

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Infectious diseases are caught in a number of ways, depending on the type of bug it is and how they survive in the environment. For example:

  • Tiny droplets of mucous in the air (measles)
  • Directly from a surface or object touched by an infected person, such as a door handle (MRSA)
  • Eating or drinking something that is contaminated or infected (Salmonella)
  • Breathing in germs from another person who is breathing them out (tuberculosis of the lung)
  • Through infected blood and blood products (HIV)


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There are some simple measures that you can take to reduce the risk of getting an infection:

  • Make sure you and your family are up to date with your jabs/vaccinations and if travelling abroad get advice well in advance from your GP regarding any tablets or injections that may be needed for protection
  • Always wash and dry your hands thoroughly
  • Follow simple food safety guidance
  • If you are caring for someone who has diarrhoea, use disposable gloves and apron if possible and wash your hands thoroughly after removing them. Ensure the toilet is cleaned and disinfected with bleach after each use
  • If you have an auto immune disease, or chronic disease, such as renal failure or diabetes, you have a higher risk of getting an infection. Also, chemotherapy and some tablets such as steroids can increase your risk. Your GP will advise you on how to avoid your chances of getting an infection  
  • If you develop diarrhoea and vomiting and it is likely to be norovirus, you need to stay off work/ school for 48 hours after the last symptom. This depends on what the cause of the diarrhoea is. If you are in any doubt, contact your GP by phone rather than visit the GP as you may pass the disease on to others


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Leaflets

Tick awareness

Ticks are small blood sucking members of the spider family. There are about 20 different types in Britain, and many feed only on wild animals or coastal birds. The most common species is the deer or sheep tick, Ixodes ricinus. This tick feeds on a number of animals such as mice, deer and farm animals. They also bite humans and their pets, particularly dogs.

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The larvae have six legs, whereas nymphs and adult ticks have eight legs. The larvae are about the size of a poppy seed and look very much like a speck of dirt. A well fed adult tick looks like a grain of rice. They vary in colour from a pale pink to a grey-blue shade.

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They are found in numerous outdoor habitats preferring moist damp areas such as woodland, grassland, moorland and heathland. They can also be found in urban parks and gardens, especially where there are deer or other large animals.

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If it’s a mild winter, they can be active all year but they tend to be most active during late spring and early summer. They are very sensitive to changes in temperature and can dry out very easily. They often climb up and down the vegetation depending on the humidity.

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The life of a tick begins as an egg. When the egg hatches a six legged larva emerges. The larva usually feeds on small mammals or a bird. After feeding it drops to the ground to digest its food and begins to grow. It usually moults within three weeks and becomes a nymph with four pairs of legs. The nymph then seeks a blood meal from a mammal, bird or lizard. They complete their meal within a couple of days and drop off the host, just like the larva. The nymph moults again to become an adult. The mature tick then seeks a further host after which it mates. The male dies after mating and the female goes on to lay a batch off eggs before dying. This lifecycle could last over a three-year period.

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Ticks live in leaf litter. When conditions are right, they climb to the tips of vegetation like grass and bracken and wait for an animal to walk past. They cannot see, but they can detect carbon dioxide, heat and the movement of a passing animal. They do not jump or fly, but with hooks on the end of their legs they grab onto animals as they brush past the vegetation. They have a needle-like barbed mouth part called a hypostome. This is pushed into the skin prior to feeding. The barbs on the mouthpart face backward making it difficult to dislodge whilst it is feeding.

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They prefer moist areas of the animal but will bite anywhere on the body where an area of exposed skin is found. Common areas to find them are the waist, arm pits, groin, behind the knee and along hair lines. These are prime areas you need to examine if you think you may have been in contact with ticks.

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Evidence suggests that tick saliva has a number of properties, including a local anaesthetic. This may be one reason why many people are unaware of being bitten. If you have been in contact with a typical tick habitat, it is wise to check yourself, your children and pets.

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The safest way of removing a tick is using a fine pair of tweezers or a tick removal tool. Grasp it as close to the head as possible. Pull firmly upwards if using a pair of tweezers. If using a tick removal tool, you also need to use a twisting motion. After removing the tick clean the bite area with an antiseptic wipe. Keep an eye on the area for several weeks in case a rash develops, which may be a sign of Lyme disease.

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Some ticks are infected with bacteria known as Borrelia burgdorferi that causes Lyme borreliosis or Lyme disease. The bacteria are passed onto humans whilst the tick is feeding, and infection can be serious if not treated. There are other diseases, but Lyme disease is by far the most common in the UK.

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Symptoms of Lyme disease can include a slowly expanding circular reddish rash, flu-like feeling, fatigue, muscle and joint pain. Most cases are cleared up with a course of antibiotics, but without treatment, more serious conditions such as meningitis, facial palsy, nerve damage and arthritis can develop, and so prevention and early detection are crucial. If you develop any of these symptoms, visit your GP and remember to tell them you have been bitten by a tick.

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There are a number of reputable dealers if you search the worldwide web. Veterinary practices often sell them too.

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Last updated: 20 October 2016 | Last reviewed: 20 October 2016