As the weather warms, people across the Interior Health Authority (IHA) will be spending more time outdoors in tall grass or wooded areas and this means an increased chance of getting tick bites. Ticks are small bugs that bite and feed on the blood of humans and animals and sometimes these bites can transmit disease. Fortunately, there are precautions people can take to prevent illnesses that may be transmitted from tick bites.
“There are easy things you can do to protect yourself, like covering up before you head outdoors and checking for ticks when returning from a walk, hike or bike ride,” says IHA medical health officer Dr. Rob Parker. “Most tick bites do not result in illness; however, any bite from a tick or other insect should be cleaned, as infection can occur whenever there is a break in the skin.”
While ticks are common in the IHA region, most are the wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni), species, which does not carry the Lyme disease bacteria. Lyme disease-carrying ticks (Ixodes pacificus) are more common in the coastal areas of B.C. The wood tick can carry other diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, although it is rare.
In addition, ticks also have toxins that can cause temporary muscle weakness and paralysis if they are attached for several days, especially in children or seniors — but the symptoms fade once the tick is found and removed from the skin. The signs of many tick-borne infections can be quite similar and include fever, headache, muscle pain and rash.
“Even though the Lyme disease-carrying ticks are less common in the Interior than on the coast of B.C., we know many residents travel around the province frequently, so it’s important they are aware of the signs of Lyme disease,” says Parker.
For people newly infected with Lyme disease, about 70-80 per cent will develop small red bumps at the site of the tick bite within several days. The redness then spreads out into a circular rash eventually resembling a target or “bull’s-eye”. Individuals who experience this rash should see their doctor as soon as possible.
One of the most important ways to protect yourself from tick illnesses is to do a skin check on yourself and your children after being outdoors. Other precautions include:
•walking on cleared trails when in long 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 all uncovered skin;
•carefully checking clothing and scalp (covered or not) when leaving an area where ticks may live; and
•regularly checking household pets for ticks.
To reduce ticks from entering your home and yard, try these steps:
•keep your lawn short and remove any leaf litter and weeds;
•keep a buffer area such as wood-chip or gravel border between your lawn and wooded areas or stone walls. Any play equipment or areas should be kept away from wooded areas;
•trim tree branches to allow more sunlight in your yard;
•move wood piles and bird feeders away from the house; and
•widen and maintain trails on your property.
If you do find a tick on yourself or your pet, wear gloves and be careful not to crush the tick because this could cause it to inject its stomach contents into your skin:
•use needle-nose tweezers to gently grasp the tick close to the skin;
•without squeezing, pull the tick straight out;
•after removal, clean the area with soap and water; and
•if you find one tick, check very carefully for others.
If you have concerns or need assistance removing a tick, please contact your family doctor or visit a walk-in medical clinic.
— Interior Health Authority