Avoiding bugs and germs outdoors

Each year a small number of people are affected by infections caught outdoors, which could be avoided by following some simple precautions. Spending time enjoying the outdoors is very important for health and wellbeing. Relaxing and taking exercise in the fresh air is good for your physical and mental health. Not only is it free to do, you can start on your doorstep by visiting local parks and woods.

Wash your hands

A number of germs, such as E.coli O157 and Cryptosporidium, are commonly carried by farm animals. These germs can be present anywhere in the outdoors and may cause illness if swallowed. They're usually passed from your hands to your mouth, and your hands don't need to look dirty to carry them. You can pick these germs up through:

  • touching, stroking or petting animals
  • contact with fields, fences, gates and buildings where animals have been kept

This is why it's really important to wash your hands thoroughly before eating or drinking and after contact with animals or the places where they’re kept.

Pregnant women should avoid contact with animals giving birth and newborn animals as they may carry germs that can be particularly risky in pregnancy.

Hand washing technique

The best way of protecting yourself is by washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water. This should be done before eating, drinking or doing anything else that brings your hands into contact with your mouth, such as smoking.

When out and about, and there's no running water available, you could use hand wipes. Hand sanitisers can be used if your hands are visibly clean. As wipes and hand sanitisers aren't 100% effective against all germs, remember to wash your hands with soap and water at the first opportunity.

If you’re planning to eat outdoors, follow Food Standards Scotland’s advice on safe picnics/barbeques.

Drink clean water

Germs, such as E. coli O157, Cryptosporidium and Leptospira can contaminate lochs, rivers and burns (streams) and can be harmful to people if swallowed. When setting out for the outdoors, make sure that you've enough drinking water with you. If this isn't possible, or if drinking water isn't available, untreated water can be made safe to drink by boiling or using chemical treatments. Water bottles, cups and flasks should be kept clean and away from dirt.

It's important to remember that some holiday accommodation in Scotland may not be on a mains water supply. These are also known as private water supplies which if not well managed and maintained can be a risk to health. The owner of the premises can provide you with more information about the quality of the drinking water. Further information can be found on the Drinking Water Quality Regulator for Scotland website.

Be tick aware

Ticks in Scotland can carry the germ that causes Lyme disease

Ticks are small spider-like creatures that can be found on bushes and undergrowth in Scotland’s countryside, parks and gardens from spring through summer and well into autumn. Most ticks that bite people are unlikely to be carrying the germ that causes Lyme disease, but there's no way of knowing at the time. So, it is best to:

  1. Try to avoid being bitten by ticks
  2. Remove any ticks that do bite as quickly as possible

How to prevent tick bites

You can reduce your chances of being bitten by ticks by:

  • covering skin which may come into contact with plants
  • wearing long trousers tucked into boots and long sleeves
  • using an insect repellent containing DEET
  • trying to stick to paths and avoid dense undergrowth

Removing a tick

You should always check carefully for ticks after being in the outdoors. Remember to check skin folds, armpits, groin and waistbands where ticks are often found. Check necks and hairlines too, particularly in children. Ticks can crawl under cuffs, so it’s very important to check for them even if you've been well covered up.

Not all ticks carry the germ that causes Lyme disease. Those that do, need to be attached to someone for around 24 hours before the germs are passed into them. 

Removing all ticks quickly will prevent infection with the germ that causes Lyme disease. They are best removed using a specially designed tick removal device, available in pharmacies and outdoor shops throughout Scotland. Fine tipped tweezers can also be used to lift the tick off.

How to remove a tick (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAG2wI9EiNM)

Watch Dr. James Douglas demonstrate how to remove a tick safely.

Clean up after yourself

Germs can be brought from the outside into your home on:

  • muddy footwear
  • bikes
  • pushchairs
  • pets

Once inside, these germs can be a risk to your family and your visitors. Simply cleaning dirty items before allowing them in your house reduces this risk. Remember to wash your hands with soap and water after cleaning up.

Cover your tracks

If you've been enjoying the outdoors through walking or camping, it's important to leave the environment as you found it.

Pet and human waste can carry germs that can threaten the health of Scotland’s animals and the safety of food made from them. So, it's important to bag and bin any waste whenever possible.

Take responsibility for your actions

By treating the outdoors with respect, we can all enjoy the benefits of being outside whilst minimising our impact on the environment. Read the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.