With the official arrival of spring on Saturday, March 20, comes the arrival of some unwanted guests; ticks.
Tick season has officially begun in the Kootenay region and Interior Health has some tips to avoid getting bitten by the blood-feeding critters.
Dr. Carol Fenton, Medical Health Officer for Interior Health explained in an article that ticks cannot fly or jump, so they search for an animal to bite by climbing to the top of tall grasses and other vegetation.
“[Ticks hold on] with a few legs and extend the others so they can hop on to an animal (such as a deer, dog, or human) as they brush past. They need the grass in order to quest, but they like to stay in the shade, so they are most often found in grassy areas close to trees,” Fenton wrote.
She adds that there are more than 20 species of ticks found in B.C. There are two species that tend to bite humans more than others: the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick and the Western Black-legged tick.
Fenton says that most of the time, tick bites are harmless.
“We know from testing programs that the risk of infection from a tick bite is very low (only around one per cent of ticks tested in B.C. have the bacteria that can cause Lyme disease),” Fenton wrote. “Even if a tick has a germ that can cause illness, removing the tick within 24-36 hours of a bite can prevent an infection.”
Interior Health recommends keeping the grass near trees in your yard short, so ticks don’t have a place to climb. When hiking, it’s important to stick to the trails, as opposed to any long grass, and wear long-sleeve shirts, pants and socks, tucking pants into your socks. Another protection against ticks is bug spray with DEET.
The province of BC’s tick health guidelines say that when you are working or spending time outdoors, wearing light coloured clothing can help you spot ticks more easily.
In terms of protecting your pets, some veterinarians will be able to prescribe a treatment for dogs and cats, such as NexGard, that is taken orally and helps to prevent tick bites. Check with you veterinarian to see if this is an option for your pet.
Checking for ticks will help prevent infection. Tick bites usually aren’t felt, which means it’s important to check for ticks after spending time outside. Fenton says that ticks actually have special proteins in their saliva that prevent animals from noticing that they have been bit. Check yourself, loved ones and dogs focusing on areas that ticks climb towards including the groin, armpits, head and neck.
Although most tick bites are harmless, it is important to watch for signs of illness and see a doctor as soon as possible if you notice a bull’s eye rash or other symptoms.
If you do find a tick, removing them can be tricky. The province of B.C. has a detailed guideline on their website that explains how to remove a tick, but if you aren’t comfortable doing so, Fenton says to see your doctor as soon as possible.
Fenton adds that ticks found on B.C. residents can be tested for free at the BCCDC Public Health Laboratory if submitted by a physician.
“Commercial tick tests are not recommended. If you’ve removed a tick yourself, and you want to submit it for testing, save it for your doctor by putting it in a container with a tight lid with a damp cotton ball to keep it alive,” said Fenton. “Write down the location where you think the tick came from, and make an appointment with your doctor as soon as you can.”
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