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April 24, 2019 • read

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How to enjoy the outdoors during tick season

As Canadians, we’ve always been encouraged to embrace the outdoors, and many of us have never had to take ticks into consideration before. But with rising temperatures, tick-borne Lyme disease has now become a threat in six out of the 10 provinces. While we should take precautions, this doesn’t mean we have to stop enjoying nature. Learn about the symptoms of Lyme disease, how to protect yourself, how to recognize a bite, and what to do about it.

Preventing tick bites

It’s not always possible to completely prevent a tick bite, but there are several things you can do to minimize your exposure. Ticks hang around in tall grasses and wooded areas looking for a meal to happen by. Wearing cropped pants with ankle socks or flip flops makes it pretty easy for them to dine on you. Tuck your pants into your socks, however? Not so much. Ticks are dark coloured which makes them hard to find on dark clothing, so light coloured clothing is also an important part of your defence.

If you’re going to be in an area with ticks, wear an insect repellant with DEET in it. And if you’re hiking or exploring a park or wooded area, it’s a good idea to stay on the trail. The more wild the area, the more likely you are to brush past and maybe against a tick.

What does a tick look like on a human?

Ticks look like tiny spiders — they have eight legs and a teardrop shape. They can be different colours depending on whether they’ve fed or not, and what stage of development they are in. In Canada, the blacklegged or deer tick carries Lyme disease and before they feed, they are tiny – about the size of a sesame seed.

What does a tick bite look like?

Most people have heard that a tick bite produces a “bull’s-eye” rash — a red dot surrounded by a larger, circular red rash. While this does happen in some cases, it’s not always a sure way to diagnose a tick bite. Some tick bites can look like mosquito bites, while others might not be visible at all. Still others might develop into one of many different rashes. If you’re having trouble figuring out how to identify a tick bite, it can be helpful to speak to a doctor just to be on the safe side.

Removing ticks

Because of their size, ticks can be hard to find. This means you have to be thorough when checking for them. While the hands, arms and ankles are all good places to check, ticks can end up in some out of the way spots too. If you may have been exposed, a whole-body check is a good idea. Have a friend or partner examine behind your ears, on your neck and even your scalp to make sure you don’t have any stowaways. And be sure to check your kids and pets thoroughly too. If you find a tick, don’t assume that it’s the only one. Keep checking as there may be more on you.

While being bitten by a tick can be jarring, it’s not the end of the world. Removing a tick within 24 hours will likely keep you from contracting Lyme disease. And keep in mind that not all ticks carry Lyme disease. That being said, there are some definite do’s and don’ts when it comes to removing the tick from your body. Ticks aren’t leeches, so burning them or pouring salt on them isn’t a good idea. It might actually make them burrow in more deeply. Instead, grip the tick as close to its head or mouth as possible using a pair of tweezers. Slowly pull it straight out without twisting or squeezing it. Squeezing the tick might accidentally transfer the Lyme pathogen. There are also a number of tools currently on the market that do a great job of removing them intact. If you know you’ll be in a tick heavy area, investing in one of those beforehand is your best bet.

Signs and symptoms of Lyme disease

Lyme disease can be both mysterious and debilitating. Lyme disease symptoms in humans can vary, but sometimes include:

  • Rash
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Severe headaches
  • Neurological issues (confusion, memory loss)

How is Lyme disease treated?

The good news is that you can minimize your chances of getting Lyme disease after a tick bite. If you have the tick that bit you, keep the body and put it in a sealed container so it can be tested for Lyme disease. If you don’t, however, you can still go to your doctor and ask about prophylactic antibiotic treatment. Even if it turns out that you have early-stage Lyme disease, most people can be successfully treated with a few weeks of antibiotics.

The concerns around tick bites and Lyme disease are new to many of us, which can make them seem even scarier. While Lyme disease in Canada is becoming more of an issue, with the right knowledge, you can keep yourself and your loved ones safe. Even if you are bitten, Canadian doctors are aware of the issue and can prescribe effective treatment. So don’t let ticks keep you from enjoying the outdoors this season.

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