Spring and summer in the Okanagan means getting outside to explore and enjoy the many beautiful parks and trails. Unfortunately, the ticks are also out in full force! They are prevalent in our area and are typically found in tall grass and wooded areas. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, there are more than 20 species of ticks in B.C., though only three of those species are known to bite humans.
Common Ticks in the Okanagan
In BC’s Southern Interior, the most common species is the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick. It is about the size of a small pea and is not known to be a carrier of Lyme Disease but it is known to spread diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever in rare cases, and if left unchecked for multiple days can cause temporary paralysis in humans.
While not considered common to the area, the Deer Tick has been linked to a handful of Southern Interior Lyme Disease cases. The adult deer tick is the size of a sesame seed (2.5-millimeter diameter), oval, and has a flattened body before enjoying a blood meal. When engorged with blood, the eight-legged arthropod is about the size of a small pea and blue-black in color.
Once relatively rare in Canada, Black-legged Ticks are moving in across large parts of country and they’re moving fast — between 35 and 55 km per year, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory. Bites from these ticks are said to be painful, and they are responsible for transferring the microorganism which causes Lyme Disease in humans.
Getting sick from a tick bite in the Okanagan Valley is rare, but can happen. Most tick bites are harmless and do not result in Lyme disease - less than one per cent - because most ticks are not infected with disease-causing germs. If a tick is carrying disease, the germs that cause the disease are injected with the tick’s bite.
Tick bites like any insect bite should be treated seriously since infection can occur due to the break in the skin. The tricky thing is that symptoms sometimes won’t show up for a long time (anywhere from 3 to 30 days!). It is important to watch for signs of illness and possible infection. In addition to fever, headache, muscle & joint pain, people infected with Lyme disease will often develop a rash that looks like a bull’s-eye target that expands from the site of the tick bite.
The good thing is, that illness from ticks is very treatable when identified early on.
The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to not get bitten by a tick in the first place.
Walk on cleared trails wherever possible.Wear light colored clothing, tuck your shirt into your pants and tuck your pants into your boots or socks.
Put insect repellent containing DEET on all uncovered skin. Re-apply as frequently as directed on the containers. See BCCDC’s Insect Repellant Poster.
Check clothing and scalp (covered or not) when leaving an area where ticks may live.
Regularly check household pets for ticks.
To help keep ticks away from your home and yard, you can:
Keep your lawn short and remove any fallen leaves and weeds.
Keep a buffer area such as a wood-chip or gravel border between your lawn and wooded areas or stone walls.
Any play equipment or play zones should be kept away from wooded areas.
Trim tree branches to allow more sunlight in your yard.
Keep wood piles and bird feeders away from the house.
Widen and maintain trails on your property.
How to safely remove ticks
Do not do anything that can stress or crush the tick’s body. This may cause it to inject its stomach contents into your blood. Follow the steps below:
Using needle nose tweezers, gently grasp the tick close to the skin. If you find it difficult to remove the tick do not use grease, alcohol or heat to remove the tick. Visit your doctor.
Without squeezing, pull the tick straight out.
After removal, clean the area with soap and water and apply an antiseptic cream.
If you find one tick, check very carefully for others.
Notify your doctor if you notice any rash or unusual health problems later.
Not every tick bite leads to Lyme disease, but it’s important to get ticks off of you quickly. The longer they’re on, the higher the chance of the tick transmitting Lyme disease. So, doing a dailytick check is important if you’re spending time outside.You should examine your whole body carefully, since ticks may be as small as a poppy seed.