Tick season is here and they seem to be more plentiful than in previous years. Health Canada and the health ministers of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia issued warnings that the tick populations in the respective provinces experienced a drastic population increase. The blacklegged tick, also called the deer tick, is of particular concern as it carries the bacteria Borrelia budoferi, which is responsible for causing Lyme disease in humans.
It is assumed that the relatively mild and short winters we experienced over the past few years may have contributed to the unexpected population growth of the ticks. The affected provinces keep monitoring the continued expansion of blacklegged ticks which are most often encountered from early spring through late fall. Lyme disease is passed on to people by a bite from this particular tick. The symptoms of Lyme disease can start within three days of a tick bite and the symptoms range from an expanding rash which then fades away and can include headache, neck stiffness, muscle aches, fatigue, fever, chills and swollen lymph nodes. If you experience one or more of these symptoms it is advisable to get in contact with your doctor and arrange for an examination and blood test. Lyme disease can be successfully treated with antibiotics if it is diagnosed in the early stages. Patients with advanced Lyme disease infections are more difficult to treat and rarely can the disease be completely eradicated and may become chronic.
Ticks are most commonly found in rural and forested areas, where they reside on the tips of grass and leaves in tall grass meadows and brushy areas waiting for a host, animal or human, to come by. In urban areas ticks reside mostly along trails bordered by tall grass and thick brush vegetation. When a host walks by the tick simply crawls on the animal or human as it brushes up against it.
The best prevention against ticks is to avoid areas that are preferred tick habitat. Of course if you’re a hunter, angler, camper or other outdoor enthusiast it is practically unavoidable to come in contact with ticks and you have to take extra precautions to protect yourself.
- Apply an appropriate tick repellant(containing DEET) to exposed skin and clothing.
- If possible, wear long thin silk underpants, socks and t-shirts (ticks cannot penetrate silk) and tuck pant legs into the socks.
- After returning from a trip outdoors check yourself over for ticks on your body; you may need assistance from your spouse or a friend to check your backside and hair.
- Take clothing outside and spray liberally with a product that contains permethrin that kills ticks. Simply washing your garments will not kill ticks that are hiding in your clothing.
- Treat you dog regularly with products that kill ticks on contact. Ask your veterinarian for product advice.
While tick transmitted Lyme disease are rare (it is estimated that only one in 500 ticks carry the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease) there’s always a chance, and it is just not worth taking. Be prepared and enjoy the beautiful weather we’re having now to be outdoors.