Wednesday, 22 July 2015

lyme in the coconut

Ignore this pic it has nothing to do with the question below.

Q: What is the UK's most dangerous arachnid? (In my opinion!)

Hope to challenge Martin a bit more at the ToF next week.

Thanks to Mandy Williams for photo.

While you have a think about that I'll cover the ground between the weekend and now. Around Friday I was feeling a bit tired. I had run hard at club on Wednesday, and again at Intervals with the Carnethies on Thursday. I hoped the day off on Friday would be sufficient to recover for Saturday's 10k at Musselburgh. The wind got up specially for it and made the race a wash-out for me and most who ran, though a few seemed to run as if the wind wasn't a problem. I was a bit slower than I would want but put it down to my inability to run well into a headwind. (I was a minute slower than the week prior at Kelso, a significantly tougher course.)

Mikey F had a great run and won first vet

first 50

first local

first team speaking into a cone

first photographer

Sunday and I felt not too bad. We enjoyed a short run in the Pentlands and had loosely arranged to meet Mike around 1pm at Red Moss Car Park for a swim in Threipmuir. It was fun, and the water was cold enough to want a wet suit but warm enough to stay in for a good while. It was very shallow where we got in but as you swam North East it became quite a bit deeper. Mike was in longest, swimming all the way down and back. By the time he got out he looked pretty done in, tip-toeing back across the rocky ground. I didn't envy him his cycle up to the kips (still wearing his wet shorts underneath.)


garmins were boasting all sorts of ridiculous speeds for this descent

When I got home I felt very tired and slept for a couple of hours. This is unusual and again I put it down to a taxing week. One of the reasons I don't like an afternoon nap is that it can make it difficult to get a decent night's sleep afterwards. Sunday night I slept very well but when I woke up Monday I knew the tiredness I had been feeling had developed into an illness. I lay in bed knackered. I realised I had been feeling like I was maybe getting a cold and had half expected the flu-like symptoms to turn into something. (Slightly headachy and generally below par.) I lay for a while wondering what it might be or if I had been in touch with anyone with the flu etc.

now that's a good look

Then I remembered the tick. I get loads of ticks from running through long grass on trails, mostly in East Lothian, so deer ticks rather than sheep I would imagine. I believe I have sensitive/allergic skin. In that it goes well-over-the-top when I get bitten by insects (and arachnids). Often really vivid red marks and on one occasion in Spain an ankle bite from an unseen visitor became so discoloured it looked like amputation would be the only option, before anti-histamine sorted it quickly and painlessly.

Because the tick bite (picked up on the 12th / 13th July on my last TB run) was at the back of my thigh I hadn't seen it. The following day I knew from an incredibly itchy area that there was almost certainly going to be a tick there. It had moved from the original site a cm or 2 and re-attached so Mary removed the blighter. The original site was so ticklish I found myself clawing at it involuntarily and a small red patch rose up for a couple of days (still just visible by the time I got to the Dr.) The site of the removal next door was left with a match-head sized mark. Mary said the tick she removed was either very small or it was only part of the tick.

I thought no more of it until lying on my sick bed on Monday (10 days later) wondering if it could be the potentially fatal Lyme Disease. Here's how Wikipedia describes it:

Lyme disease, also known as Lyme borreliosis, is an infectious disease caused by bacteria of the Borrelia type.[1] The most common sign of infection is an expanding area of redness, known as erythema migrans, that begins at the site of a tick bite about a week after it has occurred. The rash is typically neither itchy nor painful. About 25% of people do not develop a rash. Other early symptoms may include feverheadache, and feeling tired. If untreated, symptoms may include loss of the ability to move one or both sides of the facejoint pains, severe headaches with neck stiffness, or heart palpitations, among others.

On the upside I hadn't got the typical bullseye rash around the bite that generally lets you know you're in trouble. On the downside 25% don't get this. (Looking at the wikipedia page I did have a rash very similar to the middle picture “raised red borders around indurated central portion” which I thought was just my over-reaction to the itchyness of the bite.) The tick had probably been on me for long enough to transmit the infection. (Let that be a lesson to have a more scrupulous search after every run through long grass) – they need time to infect you so prompt removal is vital.

And if you don't get Lyme Disease treated? Well loads of very bad stuff can happen (with death as the worst case scenario). So much so that I'd label the wee bastards as the UK's most dangerous arachnids (in answer to the question at the top of the page.) They are an arachnid (ie 8 legs), and despite what the sensationalist tabloids would have you believe about False Widow spiders or other tropical blow-ins I'd rather have exposure to a bitey spider than a legacy that can include permanent damage to brain, nerves, eyes, joints and heart.

Current advice on best way to remove tick is to grab it nearest the skin, lightly with tweezers (do not crush!) and pull directly out (not twisting). The website from which I nicked this photo estimates that 3,000 people in the UK contract Lyme Disease from tick bites every year.

Bart Yasso (of Yasso 800s fame) has had a couple of severe run ins with Lyme Disease and it has left him crocked. Doctors thought he was going to die on the second occasion. There is a good article here about it and I have to admit to being one of those trail runners who didn't previously worry that much about ticks and was never really that concerned about the consequences.

Lying on my death bed I didn't know for sure whether my condition was tick related or not. I still don't. But having read lots of stuff on the internet I thought it's not worth the risk. I phoned my medical centre. I was last at the doctor in 2007 to get an obligatory health check before running the Everest Marathon. I can't remember the time before that – probably as a student in my 20s. I spoke to the centre receptionist who made notes for the duty doctor who called me back later in the day and had me come in for a visit, same day, 4pm. (Today's poem: God Bless the NHS) I presume the doctor had spent some of the intervening time googling Lyme Disease as she also felt we should take it seriously and move quickly and after a brief chat and examination gave me a prescription for Doxycycline which I will take for a fortnight.

Reading up about it I suspect I have had a close shave with Lyme Disease. (I can't be sure.) Particularly the amount of time passed with the tick onboard; the raised rash (although my reactions are often flamboyant but meaningless), and the fatigue. Monday I got up, had breakfast and went back to bed. Slept all day other than visiting the Medical Centre. Tuesday similar. Failed to even do the dishes because I was chained to the bed by a weariness. I have never slept so much. And a general flu-like ache and headache. Not massively bad, just background. Today I feel like I am on the mend. Maybe the antibiotics are kicking in, maybe the 'flu bugs are on the way out. I will never know for sure. The doctor said they could run blood tests but they often don't show much. I think that's the thing about tick bites – they can be so innocuous but also so dangerous and it's almost impossible to tell the difference. I will never again be so cavalier.

BBC article here
NHS article here


  1. I hope you are better very soon! Always better safe than sorry, and thanks for raising the profile of these dangerous wee beasties!

  2. Same here, hope you recover quick. Had read that TB log and admired the photos of the lovely trails as always...

  3. You forgot to mention the symptom of grumpiness. I hope you will be back to your full dishes washing capacity soon :-).X

  4. had to pick a big tick out of my dog when hill running in the highlands 2 weeks ago, bought a special tick removal tool from a camping shop that does not squeeze the body as this can inject its intestinal fluid (gross!) back into your blood stream and spread the virus. every hill runner should have a tool and a good (close!) friend to check you over after a run.