The early arrival of spring weather this year means many of us are spending more time enjoying the great outdoors.
And we aren’t the only ones basking in the unseasonable warmth. The change in weather also brings out ticks—small bugs that feed on the blood of humans and animals and can sometimes transmit disease.
“Ticks are most often found in tall grass and wooded areas, so covering up before you head outdoors and checking for ticks on yourself, your children, and your pets after being outdoors are simple things that go a long way to prevent tick bites,” said Gwen Barker, communicable disease specialist with Interior Health.
The most common tick species in the Interior Health region is the wood tick, which does not carry the Lyme disease bacteria. The wood tick can carry other diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, although it is very rare. Some ticks also have toxins that can cause temporary muscle weakness and paralysis if attached for several days, but the symptoms fade once the tick is removed. Signs of many tick-borne infections can be quite similar and include fever, headache, muscle pain, and rash.
The tick species that carries Lyme disease (Ixodes pacificus) is more common in the coastal areas of B.C., but may also be present in low numbers in the Interior region. Less than one per cent of Ixodes ticks in B.C. carry Lyme disease. In addition to fever, headache and muscle pain, people infected with Lyme disease will often develop a rash that looks like a bullseye target and expands from the site of the tick bite.
“Most tick bites do not result in illness; however, all tick bites should be cleaned, as infection can occur whenever there is a break in the skin,” added Barker. “It is important to watch for signs of tick-transmitted illnesses. Anyone who experiences a bullseye rash or other symptoms should see a doctor as soon as possible.”
Other precautions include:
• Walking on cleared trails when in tall grass or wooded areas
• Wearing a hat, long sleeves, pants and light-coloured clothing
• Tucking pant legs into socks or boots
• Applying insect repellent containing DEET on uncovered skin
• Carefully checking clothing and scalp (covered or not) when leaving an area where ticks may live
• Having a shower after returning from areas where ticks may live.
If you find a tick on yourself, a family member, or pet, wear gloves and gently remove it with needle-nose tweezers, pulling it out without squeezing it.