Spring has arrived in the Kootenays and with it have appeared some of our least favourite wild neighbours, ticks. In response to this annual emergence, WildSafeBC has some advice on how to avoid tick bites and what do if you are bitten by one of them.
The unpopular eight-legged hitchhikers crawl out with the snow melt and can remain active into the early summer. Ticks are ectoparasites, and survive and reproduce by embedding in and feeding on hosts such as deer, rodents and us. Come spring, ticks climb up to the tips of grasses and brush waiting for a host to latch onto and so it is important to be vigilant as we get out to enjoy the nice weather.
Part of the ew factor with ticks is that they are vectors for disease. Here in the Kootenays by far the most common human-biting tick is the Rocky Mountain wood tick. The toxin in the saliva of wood ticks can cause tick paralysis. If the tick is not removed, it can be fatal, but if ticks are removed early, the paralysis can be reversed without further symptoms. These ticks are also known to vector Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which thankfully is a rare occurrence in British Columbia.
While being bitten by a tick does not necessarily mean you will become ill, it is still important that we take precautions to avoid getting bitten.
• Avoid areas where you know there are ticks.
•Walk on trails and avoid grassy forested areas.
• Wearing light coloured clothing will help you see ticks.
• Tuck your pants into your socks or wear gators. You can apply insect repellent, which contains DEET.
• Be especially wary along game trails or good habitat for rodents. This includes open grassy areas.
• When you return from your hike, check yourself, children and pets. Ticks will climb up and they may be in your hairline, scalp, folds of skin, under your armpits or knees.
• Talk to your vet about ensuring your pets are treated with tick preventatives.
You can also help keep ticks out of your yard by managing wildlife attractants around your residence, such as bird feeders and garbage. Ticks generally do not travel far on their own, but their hosts can bring the ticks to you. Deer and small mammals, such as rodents, are great vectors for ticks and can bring ticks to your yard. Best practices include removing or protecting plants that attract deer, removing hiding spots for small rodents, cutting down tall grass, and managing fruits and other attractive sources of food.
It is important to know what to do if a tick latches onto you. If you find a tick has latched on, use tweezers to pull up gently as close to the head as possible. Do not squeeze the tick and do not twist. It is important to remove the mouth parts.
Wash the area with soap and water and disinfect the wound with antiseptic cream. If the tick is not removed promptly and buries itself more deeply, you may need to see a doctor to make sure the mouth parts are removed. Your doctor can then submit the tick for testing to the BC Centre for Disease Control.
Rose Wijenberg is the Nelson community co-ordinator for WildSafeBC. She can be contacted at email@example.com.