PEOPLE going out walking in and around Helensburgh this summer have been warned to guard against the threat of disease-carrying ticks as the warm weather tempts many to enjoy the great outdoors.

A ranger with the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park says there's been "a real spike" in reports of ticks in and around the park area over the last few days.

Kevin Unitt, the national park's land operations officer and campsite warden, says he and his colleagues dealt with four separate cases of tick bites during the last weekend alone.

Mr Unitt took to Twitter to spread the word in a bid to make people aware of the dangers ticks can cause – in particular the risk of Lyme disease, which is carried by many ticks.

He said: "We've helped four different families of campers and walkers with tick bites along Loch Achray and Three Lochs Forest Drive this weekend alone, a real spike in cases."

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Ticks – small parasitic insects that feed on the blood of birds and mammals, including humans – are found in many parts of the national park area and carry several diseases.

Only a small number of ticks are infected with the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, and a tick bite can only cause Lyme disease in humans if the tick has already bitten an infected animal.

But it's still important to be aware of ticks and to safely remove them as soon as possible, just in case.

Grassy and wooded areas in the Scottish Highlands are regarded as one of the most high-risk parts of the UK for ticks carrying Lyme disease.

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The National Park's website warns: "Ticks live in tall grasses, shrubs, bushes and trees branches up to waist height, and attach themselves as you brush past – they prefer creased areas like the armpit, groin and back of the knee.

"You won’t feel the bite, as the tick will anaesthetise the area.

"Don’t panic though – simply being bitten by a tick doesn’t mean you’ll automatically contract Lyme disease – however, the risk is out there."

Fortunately ticks are relatively easy to remove – use a good pair of sharp tweezers, grip the tick by the mouth parts (close to your skin as possible), and pull it straight out anti-clockwise.

Don't squeeze the body of the tick, apply substances like Vaseline, or try burning the tick off, as these can lead to an infection.

If you don't have tweezers to hand, a loop or slipknot of strong cotton wrapped around the mouth parts, and pulled, is also effective.

Make sure you remove all of the mouth parts.

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Removing ticks as soon as possible reduces the risk of infection – consider retaining the tick in a sealed container in case you develop symptoms later.

The most obvious symptom of Lyme disease is the ‘Bull’s Eye’ rash, a red ring-shaped rash spreading from the site of the bite.

It appears between two and 40 days after infection and is the only sure-fire symptom of the disease.

If you develop this rash, take a photo for your doctor.

Less than half of people with Lyme get this rash, and if left untreated a range of serious symptoms can develop, including a flu-like illness, facial palsy, joint pain and viral-type meningitis.

If you think you may have caught Lyme disease, see your GP straight away. If he or she suspects Lyme disease, you should begin antibiotic treatment right away, without waiting for any test results.

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Preventive measures to guard against tick bites include:

– Walk in the middle of paths and avoid unnecessary ‘bushwacking’ between March and October

– Keep your arms and legs covered

– Use a good quality insect repellent before and during your walk

After going for a walk in the countryside, it's always a good idea to check your clothes and skin carefully – though by this time of year ticks are larger and much more easily spotted than in the spring.

You should also check that ticks haven't been brought into your home on clothes, pets, rugs or other outdoor equipment, and make sure you check children carefully, especially along the hairline and scalp.