Be wary of fall tick bites

The black-legged tick is active at this time of year, and because it carries Lyme Disease, Okanagan residents are warned to watch for it.

It may only be the size of a poppy seed, but its bite could be fatal at worst, and could cause severe sickness at best—particularly if incorrectly diagnosed initially.

And, contrary to the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick (Dermacentor andersoni), which can cause paralysis and carry disease too, the Western Black-legged Tick (Ixodes pacificus) carries Lyme Disease and is commonly found at this time of year as well as in spring, when the wood tick is common.

Jim Wilson of West Kelowna is founder and president of the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation and warns that autumn is an important time of year for people to be aware that this tick continues to be looking for a blood meal until temperatures drop a few degrees below freezing.

In the past, federal and provincial health authorities denied that the Lyme Disease-carrying tick was a concern in the Okanagan, but Wilson says they just didn’t look for it in the right sort of habitat or the right time of year.

The wood tick is found in hot, dry areas, particularly in spring and early summer, while the black-legged tick is more likely to be found in leaf litter, tall grass or brush, along lakesides or streams or in ravines, where it’s moist—and in fall rather than just spring.

“They looked in the wrong places at the wrong time,” he commented.

Both federal and provincial authorities now accept that Lyme Disease can be contracted from a tick bite in the Okanagan, but there’s still a reluctance in the medical community, he said.

While the federal government admits that the most common test for Lyme Disease is not reliable, treatment for it is still based on that test, he says.

“It’s absurd,” he adds.

Wilson contracted Lyme Disease in 1991 in Nova Scotia and his daughter was bitten in B.C. in 2001 and ended up with Lyme Disease and that prompted him to found CanLyme.

She ended up with a pacemaker, but is otherwise over the disease, as is he. Both were treated for Lyme Disease.

Wilson says migratory birds tend to move the ticks around, carrying disease in their blood and infecting new ticks who bite them. The role of deer is in overwintering ticks in their fur, without becoming ill with the disease themselves.

To prevent being bitten, he advises you spray with a product containing DEET around your pantlegs or ankles, wrists, waist and neckline and don’t walk in tall grasses.

Once you’re home from a hike, check yourself thoroughly, particularly around the hairline and in private areas.

To remove a tick, pull it slowly and gently, without twisting, using your fingers or tweezers. Treat the wound with antiseptic.

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