Tick season: What you need to know to protect yourself
The warmer weather has more people getting outside to enjoy spring, but health authorities are putting out a reminder that tick season is here.
You can find ticks in tall grass or wooded areas, but they're present in urban places too: researchers are finding that ticks are migrating further north and more of them are surviving through winter because the season isn’t as cold as it used to be.
"We've seen across the country an increase: From 2009, when Lyme disease became a nationally notifiable disease, there was 144 cases that were reported for probable and confirmed,” explains Dr. Melanie Wills, director at the G. Magnotta Lyme Disease Research Lab. “And by 2017, there was about a 14-fold increase."
Increasing in numbers
Abell Pest Control says in the last few years, they’ve noticed an increasing number of calls asking about ticks, or requests to remove tick infestations around the City of Kitchener.
The good news, though, is that awareness is growing among Canadians.
A national survey the company did found that 76 per cent of people know how to identify and get rid of a tick. The most concerning type of tick is the deer or black-legged tick as they can spread Lyme disease to humans.
Researchers at the University of Guelph are trying to develop a better way for an early diagnosis of the disease.
“We don't have a test right now that can accurately tell you, after you've been bitten, whether you've actually been infected,” Dr. Wills says.
She says that the prognosis for Lyme disease is best if you catch it early—if you know you have had a tick on you, she says to see a doctor immediately.
Even better than early prognosis is prevention. Here are a few things you can do to avoid exposing yourself to ticks:
- Wear light-coloured clothing
- Wear long pants
- Check yourself after spending time in tall-grass areas or wooded areas
- Wear DEET repellant
- Keep your lawn mowed to a shorter length
What to do if you find one
If you do find a tick on you, knowing how to remove it is the next step.
“You want to be careful that you don't squish the tick when you're pulling it out because that can actually take the contents of its stomach and push it into you," explains Mike Heimbach, director at Abell Pest Control.
He says that you want to remove the tick by lifting it gently from under its mouth, making sure to get the mouth out of your skin.
You should be especially aware if you begin to develop a bullseye-shaped rash around the site of the tick: that’s a classic sign of exposure to Lyme disease, though not all people who get Lyme disease show the bullseye. Other symptoms are similar to a summer flu: headaches, joint pain and possibly fever.