Canadian summers afford us unparalleled beauty and fun adventures like hiking, biking and camping. However, warm weather also brings an increased population of ticks. Learn how to prevent and treat tick bites so you can enjoy the summer months safely.
WHAT ARE TICK BITES?
Ticks need a warm-blooded animal or human as a host to feed and survive. Once a tick finds a host, it can take 10 minutes to 2 hours to attach to the skin and begin feeding. After feeding for many hours, the ticks – which can carry infectious bacteria – are able to transmit the organism to the host through their saliva.
Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are tick-borne infections caused by harmful bacteria. Although these infections are very rare, rapidly rising tick populations in Canada in 2016 and 2017 have been a growing concern. It’s important to be able to recognize ticks and know what to do if you find one on yourself, a family member or a pet.
FACTORS THAT INCREASE TICK-BORNE INFECTIONS
1) Location, location, location.
The most common place to find a Lyme-carrying tick is eastern Canada. The common Alberta varieties, moose ticks and Rocky Mountain wood ticks, are not known to carry or transmit Lyme disease. Wood ticks, found in eastern Canadian areas that border the United States, are known to carry bacteria associated with Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
TIP: Learn more about tick “hot spots.”
2) Type of tick.
Deer ticks and western black-legged ticks are known to carry B. Burgdorferi, the bacteria associated with Lyme disease. These ticks are mostly centralized in southwestern and coastal United States of America, as well as British Columbia. They can migrate to other provinces on birds, animals, and humans that travel to endemic regions.
3) Amount of time attached to skin.
If an infected tick decides to bite, it must be attached for at least 24 to 36 hours before it is able to transmit the bacteria to the host. The risk of infection is greatly diminished if the tick has been attached for less than 24 hours.
HOW TO PREVENT TICK BITES
There are many things you can do to prevent tick bites and reduce your risk after a tick bite.
1) Wear the right clothes.
Wear long pants, shirts and hats that are light-coloured. This can prevent bites and even help spot any dark-coloured critters you may have picked up.
2) Use repellent with DEET.
It’s best to apply DEET to clothing versus directly on the skin. Wearing long sleeves, pants and hats provide an extra layer of protection.
3) Do frequent tick checks when outdoors.
Remove all clothing, shake it well and do a thorough check from head to toe. Ticks prefer to migrate and attach to the warmest and least exposed regions of the body. Carefully inspect the scalp by feeling for unusual firm bumps. Check under the arms and skin creases of the groin.
Check your pets frequently. Inspect their ears, belly, and under their arms and legs. Keep your pets groomed short in the summer. This can go a long way toward identifying and removing any pests that attach to their coat during a walk or hike.
TIP: Provincial governments across Canada have been accepting ticks from the general public for added surveillance. If the ticks are identified as species associated with Lyme disease or other serious tick-borne infections, they are tested.
WHAT IF YOU FIND A TICK?
If you find a tick on you, your child or your pet, do the following:
1) If it’s moving and does not appear to be engorged, it has not attached or begun to feed yet. Gently brush it off, collect it and submit to a surveillance program.
2) If the tick is attached, remove it and place it in a small bottle or Ziploc bag with no holes in it. Carefully remove the tick with fine tweezers applied to the tick head and closest to the skin. Apply gentle, straight and steady traction to remove the tick. Do not twist. Do not apply Vaseline, flame, or alcohol-based liquids, as these chemicals may cause the tick to prematurely inject bacteria into the skin.
If you are concerned or have symptoms following a tick bite, you should follow up with a nurse practitioner or your family doctor. Symptoms can appear anywhere from 3 to 30 days following a bite with an infected tick. Monitor for signs of fever, fatigue, headache and rash. Keep the tick with you to submit to the tick program for testing.
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