As part of our remit for protecting public health in England, we run a ‘Tick Recording Scheme’ (TRS) which receives ticks found by members of the public, GPs, vets and those working with wildlife.
This enables us to map tick species across the United Kingdom so we can establish a baseline for tick distribution and activity. We can then monitor how, when and perhaps why this changes.
Once a tick is submitted to the TRS, we identify the species using a microscope. As there are about 20 tick species in the UK, this can be quite challenging, particularly with species that look very similar. This can become even more difficult if we find a species that doesn’t look like anything we have in the UK.
These cases take a bit of investigation work, as they are likely to have been imported and could potentially be 1 of almost 900 tick species found worldwide.
In these cases we need to consider; the host the tick was removed from, which country it has come from and what time of year the tick is found.
These pieces of information help us determine what species of tick we are seeing and what risk it may pose to the person or animal it was removed from.
Importation of ticks into the UK is something that everyone needs to be aware of, particularly as some species can behave differently to UK tick species and because they can transmit diseases that we don’t often see in the UK.
One such species is the brown dog tick (or Rhipicephalus sanguineus) which can survive indoors and can transmit Mediterranean spotted fever and canine babesiosis and ehrlichiosis.
Although normally found in much warmer climates, a home with pet dogs in the UK can also be suitable for the brown dog tick to survive. This not only increases the risk of people and their pets being bitten, but can also result in a tick infestation in the home which requires fumigation to remove the ticks.
Unfortunately, this is what happened in a family home in the East of England in September last year. Ticks were noticed on two dogs within the property and approximately 100 ticks were also seen crawling on the walls, furniture and soft furnishings. The dogs were treated for ticks as recommended by a local vet, and the property was fumigated, as recommended by pest control officers. Tick specimens were then submitted to our TRS and identified as the brown dog tick.
So how did this tick come to be in the UK? Our investigation found the owners had imported a dog from a Spanish-based charity during April 2014.
The dog was imported via a Defra-approved route and delivered directly to the owners by a UK animal charity, working with the Spanish charity.
Although the animal was compliant with the Pet Travel Scheme and had reportedly been treated for ticks before leaving Spain, it appears the dog may have imported juvenile ticks which subsequently developed into adult stages once the dog had arrived in the UK.
This case highlights the importance of remaining vigilant for unusual tick species that may come home with us from our holidays or be imported into the UK on travelling and imported pets.
If you have recently been on holiday, travelled with your pet or imported an animal and have found a tick and would like to know what species it is, you can send your specimen to the TRS for identification. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.gov.uk/tick-recording-scheme to find out more.
Thank you to all of the people who have already submitted ticks to the TRS. Your submissions allow us to see which tick species are travelling to the UK on people and their pets and this helps to improve our knowledge of tick importation risk.
Enjoy your holidays with your beloved pets or meeting your newest addition to the family from overseas, but remember to be tick aware!