People across the Interior Health region have been able to get outdoors earlier than usual this year to enjoy the warm weather, and this means an increased chance of getting tick bites when hiking or biking in tall grass or wooded areas. Ticks are small bugs that bite and feed on the blood of humans and animals and these bites can sometimes transmit disease.
People can take precautions to prevent illness that may be transmitted from tick bites. “There are easy things you can do to protect yourself, like covering up and checking for ticks when returning from a walk, hike or bike ride,” says Jennifer Jeyes with Interior Health’s communicable disease unit. “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 Interior Health area, most are the wood tick or dermacentor andersoni, which does not carry the lyme disease bacteria. The wood tick can rarely carry other diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever. The signs of infection are similar for both illnesses. These include sudden onset of fever, headache, muscle pain, and swollen lymph glands, followed by the development of rash – usually in the shape of a bullseye for lyme disease.
In addition, ticks in the spring can also cause muscle weakness and paralysis if they are attached for long periods. Lyme disease and other tick-related diseases can be treated with antibiotics, and early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent complications.
One of the most important ways to protect yourself from tick transmitted illness 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;
- 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;
- 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;
- If you find one tick, check very carefully for others.
Anyone with the typical bulls-eye rash of lyme disease, or other signs or symptoms of tick-transmitted illness should see their doctor. Often people with acute lyme disease do not notice the biting tick that preceded the illness.
If you have concerns or need assistance removing a tick, please contact your family doctor or visit a walk-in medical clinic.
For more information:
Interior Health website
Healthlink BC file
BCCDC Lyme Disease information