Spring has arrived, and people are spending more time outdoors, which can mean an increase in tick bites. Ticks are small bugs, about the size of a sesame seed, which feed on the blood of humans and animals and, sometimes, transmit diseases.
Ticks are prevalent throughout the Interior and are typically found in tall grass and wooded areas. They are easiest to spot on a person or pet when they are actually sucking blood. Ticks burrow partway into the skin, bite, draw blood, and then drop off. The feeding tick’s mouth will be under the skin, but the back parts will be sticking out. When they are full of blood they are usually blue-grey in colour. This is called an engorged tick.
General symptoms of tick-borne infections include fever, headache, muscle pain, and rash.
The species of ticks most commonly found through Interior Health are Wood Ticks. While these ticks do not carry the Lyme disease bacteria, they can carry other diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Ixodes ticks are the species that transmit Lyme disease. They are more common throughout coastal B.C., but may be present in some Interior Health areas. While fewer than one per cent of Ixodes in B.C. carry Lyme disease, it is important to recognize the symptoms. In addition to fever, headache, and muscle pain, people infected with Lyme disease will often develop a rash that looks like a “bull’s eye” target which expands from the site of the tick bite.
Certain ticks may release toxins that can cause temporary muscle weakness and paralysis if left attached for several days. Once the tick is removed, symptoms fade.
It is important to remove ticks found on people and pets. To do so, wear gloves and use needlenose tweezers to gently grasp the tick close to the skin. Pull the tick straight out without squeezing it. After it is removed, clean the area with soap and water. If the tick is alive (live ticks can be tested for Lyme disease), you can save it for analysis in a sealed container with a cotton ball soaked in water. Record the date of the bite on the container.
If you have concerns or need assistance removing a tick, please contact your doctor or visit a walk-in medical clinic.
Although most tick bites are harmless, it is important to watch for signs of illness and see a doctor as soon as possible if you notice a bull’s eye rash or other symptoms. If you saved the tick, bring it with you to your medical appointment.
Fortunately, a number of precautions can be taken to prevent tick bites and tick-related illnesses. For example, if you are going outdoors you should walk on cleared trails when in tall grass or wooded areas; cover up by wearing a hat, a long-sleeved shirt, and pants; wear light-coloured clothing to help spot ticks easily; tuck your pant legs into socks or boots; and apply insect repellent containing DEET on uncovered skin.
Check your clothing and scalp (covered or not) when leaving an area where ticks may live, and ask someone to help check hard-to-see areas. Have a shower after returning from areas where ticks may live, and regularly check household pets for ticks.
To help keep ticks away from your home and yard, you can keep your lawn short and remove any fallen leaves and weeds, and keep a buffer area such as wood-chips or a gravel border between your lawn and wooded areas or stone walls. Any play equipment or play zones should be kept away from wooded areas. Trim tree branches to allow more sunlight in your yard, and keep wood piles and bird feeders away from the house.