Al Gabriel suspects that incidents of Lyme disease may be much higher in our community than reported, and he thinks we all have a role to play in reducing it

MY trip to the Game Fair, an event usually re-served  for  friends  old  and  new  serendipitously turned  out  to  be  educational. The  Game  Fair  is filled with experts in all manners of subjects, and I was lucky enough to hear a specialist in outdoor tick-proof clothing talk at the Game Fair theatre about the dangers posed by ticks.

Before  we  go  any  further,  let  us  establish  that ticks are parasitic arachnids and not insects; Lyme disease  is  caused  by  a  bacterium  not  a  virus;  and ticks  don’t  have  heads  but  a  mouthpiece. And  the nervous system is located elsewhere… But enough 

with anatomical jargon.

My  first  enlightenment  came  when  discovering that ticks have a sensory organ called a Haller’s or-gan (not found in any other animal) located on the first  set  of  legs.  We  are  all  too  familiar  with  that clingy  body  posture  they  adopt  whilst  they  swing 

on top of tall grass. They don’t do this to latch onto anything that moves but to meticulously sense and ambush their prey. How this sophisticated apparatus works is still unknown to science. But what really sent shivers down my spine was the  fact  that  even  after  the  mouthpiece  burrows into  your  skin,  the  Haller’s  organ  is  neatly  folded backwards and remains on the outside of the body, 

meaning the sensory organ is adept at figuring out any  dangers  while  the  mouthpiece  is  inside  the host. Best not to interfere with its backside, which is essentially keeping an eye out. 

The biggest danger with ticks is, of course, that as  soon  as  the  deer  is  down,  the  tick  is  already searching for an alternative host, which is usually the dog or the stalker. Even the way carcasses are transported  following  a  cull  is  key. Throwing  car-casses  into  vehicles  where  dogs  might  share  the same space, and often in open cabin vehicles, is not an intelligent thing to do. There is also a significant 

risk to family members who use the vehicle. The  risk  extends  further  to  the  domestic  larder areas, where ticks are still looking for hosts. Summer months are the most dangerous time of year for tick bites, although that is gradually changing with global warming.

Rather blasé

Although the industry  has become  more aware of the  impact  of  Lyme  and  other  diseases  carried  by ticks,  in  the  past  we  were  rather  blasé  in  our  approach  to  tick-borne  diseases.  Now,  prominent members of our stalking fraternity have openly discussed the impact Lyme has had on their lives and some of the effects they still endure. At the Game Fair, I was particularly moved by a man who suffers 

from Lyme disease who shared his experience with the  audience  as  a  cautionary  tale. Thankfully,  the stalking industry has come a long way in terms of kits and products to prevent tick bites. The impact of the disease is rather horrifying. It doesn’t  just  stop  at  migraines,  headaches,  or  joint pains.  Mental  health  issues  associated  with  the disease such as depression, often linked to loss of livelihood and the ability to support families financially, are equally severe. So why aren’t we taking this more seriously? Do we know how many of our 

fellow stalkers suffer with this in silence? 

The  Health  &  Safety  Executive  estimates  that about  900  cases  are  reported  in  the  UK  annually, but  actual  cases  might  be  close  to  3,000.  I  think the  incidence  in  our  stalking  community  is  much higher than people think. How to establish the ex-act number is far more complicated, but perhaps a simple  survey  by  fieldsports  organisations  might shed some light.

I remember the first time I had a tick on me after processing a carcass. Afterwards I was having 

a chat with my GP, who I am certain was googling Lyme disease as I was describing my worries. GPs  in  affected  areas  seem  to  be  more  experienced in  treating  Lyme  disease.  Lyme  infection  is  curable  with  standard  antibiotics  but  Lyme  disease that  goes  undetected  for  a  long  time  can  be  hard to  diagnose  and—worse  still—nearly  impossible to  treat.  Flare-ups  can  incapacitate  a  person  for 

weeks and months. To this day there are no effective  vaccines  available  in  the  UK,  although  some therapies have been developed. 

Why has Lyme disease become rife of late? That is  a  very  complicated  question,  but  it  has  to  do with  increasing  deer  numbers,  changing  climate and  increased  foot  traffic  in  the  countryside  following Covid-19. I recently stopped taking my dog to  one  of  my  upland  grounds  because  of  ticks.  I have  had  visitors  who  discovered  dozens  of  ticks on their dogs. With all the knowledge and facts out there, it still amazes me that not many people carry tick removal kits, tick sprays, or wear appropriate 

clothing, particularly in the summer months. 

Tick training

To  my  knowledge  there  are  no  specific  training courses  on  ticks  for  deer  stalkers.  I  think  there  is room for the industry to do more. I would go so far as to suggest a tailored course on ticks and practical means of preventing tick bites for deerstalkers. 

My personal view is that one of the biggest challenges  for  the  stalking  industry  is  the  number  of stalkers  that  are  going  to  experience  Lyme  in  the future. I do not believe that we fully appreciate the impact it will have on people’s lives. 

We  need  to  raise  more  awareness,  particularly for  youngsters  starting  stalking  from  an  earlier age. Some organisations are better than others, but a concerted effort might take us that bit further. It makes absolute sense to me that newcomers should get  into  the  habit  and  routine  of  protecting  themselves from this devastating disease.

We   also need to be able to talk about our experiences of the disease, including any near misses we may have had. It is easy to stay quiet about acquiring Lyme disease from fellow stalkers. While I fully appreciate it is an individual choice, the overall outcome from sharing and educating would have a positive impact. 



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