Professional Gardener - Health check

First aid It is important that your first-aid kits are properly maintained and a trained first-aider is available for any incidents that may happen at work.

Tick watch If you thought Lyme disease was a concern just for foresters and gamekeepers, then think again. Lyme disease is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi - a bacterium present in the digestive systems of many animals including mice, hedgehogs, foxes, pheasants and blackbirds. If a tick bites an animal carrying the bacteria, the tick can become infected and the bacteria can then be transferred as that tick bites its next victim.

While those who are working in woodland and heathland are likely to be most at risk of contracting the disease, and while some doctors may believe that it is not present in their areas, the charity Lyme Disease Action points out that the disease is now found across the UK, in city parks and urban gardens as well as rural areas.

Lyme disease can affect your skin, joints, heart and nervous system. The earliest symptom of the disease is a reddish circular rash that develops around the area of the bite. It can occur between three and 30 days after the bite. Flu-like symptoms - including tiredness, headaches and muscle and joint pain - may also be felt. Left untreated, more severe pains and swellings of the joint, along with temporary paralysis of facial muscles, can occur months or even years later. In late stages, symptoms similar to fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome can develop.

There is no need to be afraid of Lyme disease, or indeed ticks. It is more a matter of being aware. All staff should know how to reduce the chances of being bitten, know how to remove ticks and know what to look for in terms of symptoms. Assess the risk in your workplace.

Ticks should be removed as quickly as possible but it is essential everyone understands that ticks should never be removed with a cigarette end, be squashed or covered with Vaseline or critic acid. Such actions can cause the tick to regurgitate its stomach contents into the host's bloodstream and will make matters worse.

There are proper tick-removal tools but a piece of cotton wound round the tick and close to the skin can be used to lift the tick away - or use a notch cut into a credit card. Then seek medical attention. Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics if diagnosed early enough. More information is available from Lyme Disease Action.

Tetanus Ensure that all of your staff members are fully up-to-date with their tetanus inoculations.

Sally Drury, Technical editor

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