Now that Spring has arrived, Public Health Scotland's (PHS) Director of Public Health Science, Dr Nick Phin, shares some top tips on the things we can do to help keep ourselves well, particularly as we spend more time outdoors.

Being bug and germ aware while exploring the outdoors

Knowing what we can do to avoid bugs and germs outdoors is the first step to staying healthy.

Tick avoidance and removal

In Scotland, a small proportion of ticks can be carrying bugs and germs that cause illnesses like 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.

Being tick aware, trying to avoid being bitten by ticks and removing any ticks that do bite as quickly as possible, are all important precautions.

To avoid being bitten by ticks, cover up bare skin with long trousers and long sleeves when in outdoor green spaces. Using insect repellents also helps.

It’s really important to check for ticks after spending time in outdoors. If you do discover a tick attached to you or someone who you’re with, it’s important to remove them quickly. Removing attached ticks quickly using a specially designed tick removal tool greatly reduces the likelihood that they can pass any bugs on to you.

Hand washing

A number of germs, such as Cryptosporidium and E.coli are commonly carried by farm animals, so it’s really important to wash hands thoroughly before eating or drinking and after contact with animals or the places where they’re kept. This is particularly important when visiting petting farms, feeding lambs etc.

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,

I would also encourage parents and those looking after young children to supervise them while they are washing their hands to ensure they do so properly.

This simple video explains how to wash your hands properly.

Bird flu – Don’t pick up dead birds

We know that Scotland’s seabird populations were affected by avian flu last year.

Scotland’s Avian Influenza Task Force, led by NatureScot, has been working to expand the existing surveillance network to better understand the impacts of avian influenza on birds. This surveillance is critical as it allows us to track both where the virus is in the country and what birds have been affected.

The risk of humans getting avian flu in the UK is low but not absent. People should therefore be cautious if they come across dead birds and should not touch dead or sick birds unless they are wearing suitable protective clothing and know how to use it.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for good bone and muscle health and we make it from exposure to sunlight. While everyone in Scotland is encouraged to take a daily supplement on vitamin D during the winter months, there are some groups of people who should take a daily supplement all year round. This includes all pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as children under 5 years old as they are at higher risk of not having enough vitamin D.

In addition, those who have low exposure to the sun (those living in a care home for example) and those people from ethnic groups with dark skin (such as those of African, African-Caribbean and south Asian origin), who require more sun exposure to make vitamin D, are advised to take a daily supplement all year round.

Covid-19 boosters

COVID-19 is a highly infectious respiratory infection.

This spring, COVID-19 booster vaccinations will be offered to those who are eligible.

COVID-19 vaccine protection can fade over time and the level of protection may have reduced since a person's last vaccine.

Booster doses are recommended to help protect the most vulnerable from getting seriously ill or dying from COVID-19.

Further information

More information about ticks, including prevention and removal, Lyme Disease and this year's COVID-19 vaccination programme is available on the NHS Inform website.

More information about Bird Flu is available on the Scottish Government website. 

More information about Vitamin D supplements is available on Food Standards Scotland’s website.

Last updated: 11 May 2023