With spring now upon us and the outdoors beckoning, Interior Health is asking people to be vigilant about protecting themselves from tick bites.
Ticks are small bugs often found in tall grass and wooded areas that makes it easy for them to latch onto humans and animals, on whose blood they feed. In some cases, tick bites can lead to severe illnesses such as Lyme disease. But there are precautions people can take to mitigate the risk, such as staying on cleared trails and covering up skin when out in the wilderness.
While ticks are common in the Interior Health region, most are the wood tick species, which does not carry the Lyme disease bacteria. But wood ticks 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 removed from the skin. The signs of many tick-borne infections can be quite similar and include fever, headache, muscle pain and rash.
Lyme disease-carrying ticks are more common in the coastal areas of B.C. Approximately 70-80 per cent of people newly infected with Lyme disease 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.
“Most tick bites do not result in illness; however, any bite from a tick or other insect should be cleaned because infection can occur whenever there is a break in the skin,” Interior Health’s Dr. Karin Goodison said in a press release.
One of the most important ways to reduce the risk of tick illnesses is to do a skin check on yourself, your children and your pets after being outdoors. 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.
Regularly checking household pets for ticks.
If you find a tick on yourself, a family member or pet, wear gloves when removing it and be careful not to crush the tick as this could cause it to inject its stomach contents into your skin.
Other tips to remove ticks safely include:
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 a 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.