With spring weather finally (it seems) upon us, all sorts of people are venturing outdoors once more. The warmer temperatures are not just good news for humans, however; they also mean that ticks are up and about, posing a threat to people and pets.
“You don’t quit getting ticks until you get the long, hot days,” says Frank Ritcey, the provincial coordinator for WildSafeBC. “Until then, ticks go through a life-cycle of hosts. They’ll climb onto a host, feed, and then drop off. The males and females both feed, and the females can lay upwards of 5,000 eggs.”
A major concern about ticks is the transmission of disease. “If ticks feed on an infected host, they can transmit that disease to the next host,” says Ritcey. Lyme disease is a very real fear when it comes to diseases spread by ticks, but Ritcey says that is spread by black-legged ticks, which are prevalent back east. Although they have been found in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island, he adds that it is his understanding that no black-legged ticks have been found in the dry Interior.
“That’s not to say that they don’t live here, but Interior Health averages one infection [of Lyme disease] every two years; and that doesn’t mean that people got it here.”
The ticks found in this region are wood ticks, which prefer deer and humans as their final “big meal” before they lay their eggs. They do not carry Lyme disease, but do carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which is very rare. Some wood ticks can also cause temporary paralysis in animals and humans, until they are removed. “When they bite they release a toxin, and the smaller the person or animal the more effective the toxin will be.” Ritcey says that a person who suspects he or she has been infected should drink lots of water, and get to hospital as quickly as possible.
Ticks are most often found in wooded areas, and places where there are tall grass or bushes. Ritcey says that people who are out walking can protect themselves from ticks by tucking their pants into their socks, as ticks will cling to low bushes and transfer themselves onto the flesh of any host that passes nearby. He also advises that people use a DEET-based product and spray it onto their pants.
“You’ll see on Facebook people saying ‘You can use citronella oil’. If that stuff worked, we wouldn’t have had to come up with DEET. Natural remedies just aren’t very effective.”
He advises people who have been out walking to check themselves over carefully when they get home, to make sure they are not harbouring ticks. If you find a tick on yourself or someone else, wear gloves and gently remove it, using a pair of needle-nose tweezers to gently grasp the tick close to the skin and pull it straight out without squeezing. After removal, clean the area with soap and water.
To avoid ticks, walk on cleared trails where possible; wear light-coloured clothing so that ticks can be easily spotted; and have a shower after returning. “Check yourself when you get home,” says Ritcey. “It’s really, really important. You don’t want to get them embedded, so get them before they start biting.”
He adds that household pets are not immune to ticks, so they need to be checked as well. “Dogs can be a vector [host] that brings ticks into a house. Check your dog over thoroughly before it comes into the house; cats as well. Ticks are looking for any warm-blooded host.
“I don’t want people to be afraid of ticks; but it’s better to be aware.”