Ticks and the Diseases they Cause


Summary written by Dr Hugh Reid MBE, BVM&S, DipTVM, PhD, MRCVS
Taken from Moredun Foundation Newsheet Volume 5 No. 6 (2010)



  • sheep-at-troughThe important pathogens transmitted by ticks in the British Isles include, Louping ill virus, the cause of louping ill in sheep, cattle, horses, pigs, dogs, llamas, red grouse and man, Babesia divergens, the cause of Babesiosis (red water) in cattle, Anaplasma phagocytophilum, the cause of tick-borne fever in sheep and cattle and Borrelia burgdorferi, the cause of Lyme disease which is of greatest concern as a pathogen of man but will also affect horses, dogs and cats.
  • Ticks have a three year life cycle; eggs, larvae, nymph and adult. Each stage requires one blood meal. Adults only feed on large animals; (including humans).
  • Ticks are inactive in the winter and only start questing for a host when the mean maximum weekly temperature exceeds 7oC.
  • Louping ill is an acute virus disease which affects the brain and causes varying signs of in-coordination, paralysis, convulsions and death. The disease is primarily associated with sheep, but man, cattle, goats, pigs, horses, farmed red deer, llamas, dogs and (wild) red grouse can all be affected.
  • Control of louping ill may be achieved through vaccination of sheep and/or the systemic use of acaracidal treatments.
  • Babesiosis can be a severe disease of adult cattle, particularly when cattle are introduced to a tick area for the first time.
  • Control of Babesiosis involves the careful monitoring of adult cattle introduced to tick areas and prompt treatment of infected animals.
  • Tick-borne fever is a bacterial disease which can cause tick pyaemia in lambs. It can also cause abortion in cattle and sheep when they are exposed to ticks for the first time when pregnant.
  • Control of tick-borne fever can be achieved by the strategic use of pour-ons on young lambs and ensuring that adult animals are not exposed to ticks for the first time when pregnant.
  • Lyme disease is a bacterial disease which is becoming an increasing concern to humans. Lyme disease can also affect horses, dogs and probably cats.
  • At times of the year when ticks are active, clothing that will reduce access to ticks to skin should be worn. Prompt removal of ticks substantially reduces the chance of Lyme disease occurring.



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