With the increase in deer populations over the past few years, we have also seen a corresponding increase in tick populations here in Eastern Ontario and the rest of North America. A little-known fact is that research has shown that ticks are now being mobilized with the help of birds, not only in rural forested areas but also in our suburban areas as well.
This quick article will teach you a little more about ticks, how to minimize your chances of coming in contact with a tick and treatment and proper removal of ticks if found on you or your pet after spending some time out in the field bird watching.
What is a tick?
Ticks are relatively small insects, ranging from about 1mm-5mm in length and are closely related to spiders. These slow-moving insects cannot fly, rather coming in contact by positioning themselves in tall grass and dense bush. These insects are carriers of Lyme disease, but it is important to know that not all ticks are infected with Lyme disease, in fact only a very small percent of ticks actually carry the disease. These slow-moving insects typically take a number of hours to actually attach and feed on their prey, and their bites are relatively painless.
There are a number of relatively easy ways to minimize your chances of coming in contact with ticks; here is a quick checklist from Health Canada’s website:
- Wear light-coloured clothing. It makes ticks easier to see and remove before they can attach to feed.
- Wear long pants and a long sleeved shirt.
- Wear closed footwear and socks.
- Tuck your pants into your socks.
- Use a tick repellent that has “DEET” (following the manufacturer’s directions for use). Apply it to your skin and outer clothing. Avoid your eyes and mouth, as well as cuts and scrapes.
- Put a tick and flea collar on your pet and check them for ticks periodically.
- If you frequent the areas where blacklegged ticks are established, examine yourself thoroughly for ticks. It is important to do this each day. Pay special attention to areas such as groin, scalp and armpits. Use a mirror to check the back of your body or have someone else check it.
What to do in the event you find a tick
Rule #1: There is no need to panic. Ticks are fairly easy to remove yourself, and simply being bitten by a tick does not mean you have Lyme disease. There are some important factors to and procedures to identify and follow for the safe removal and eventual testing of any tick found on you or your pet's body. Again, here are the recommendations from Health Canada’s website:
- Prompt removal of ticks from your skin will help prevent infection since transmission of the Lyme disease agent usually requires the tick to be attached for more than 24 hours.
- Using fine-tipped tweezers, carefully grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible. Pull it straight out, gently but firmly.
- Don’t squeeze it. Squeezing the tick can cause the Lyme disease agent to be accidentally introduced into your body.
- Don’t put anything on the tick, or try to burn the tick off.
- After the tick has been removed, place it in screw-top bottle (like a pill vial or film canister), and take it to your doctor or local health unit. They can send it to the Ontario Public Health Laboratory for identification. Establishing the type of tick may help to assess your risk of acquiring Lyme disease.
- It is important to remember where you most likely acquired the tick. It will help public health workers to identify areas of higher risk.
- Thoroughly cleanse the bite site with rubbing alcohol and/or soap and water.
Lyme disease testing and possible symptoms
Basic symptoms of lime disease include fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, fatigue and skin rash. If you were in fact in contact with an infected tick, symptoms like the above would most like take 7-14 days to develop after the discovery of the tick. Infected tick bites have a unique and easily identifiable skin rash, which closely resembles a bull’s eye around the infected area. This is the case for most infected bites, but it is always a good idea to consult your physician if you were bitten in an area where Lyme disease is relatively common.
Anytime you find a tick, whether or not you think you may be infected with Lyme disease, it is always recommended to preserve the tick in a sealed container after removal from your body and be taken to your doctor or local health unit for testing. All testing is performed at the Public Health Ontario Laboratory.
Ticks are certainly something that should not deter us from getting out and enjoying nature, but we all must be prepared to take the proper precautions and follow reporting and testing procedures should one be found.