Watch Out for Ticks!
It's spring, and that means it tick time! So here's your annual briefing on what you need to know.
There are many species of ticks in British Columbia but we only need to be concerned with two of them: the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick and the Western Black-legged Tick.
Basic tick facts:
The Rocky Mountain Wood Tick
Found in the interior dry belt as far north as Williams lake and east into Alberta. It is not found west of the Coast Range mountains. This tick is most frequently encountered between March and June, usually in open, rocky areas.
These ticks climb on tall grasses and shrubs, waiting for potential hosts to brush past, so they can cling onto the host. Once on a host, ticks will climb upwards. On people, they're often found on the scalp, although they might also stop at the crotch, armpits, or other parts of the body. Myself, I've found them in my hair, face (in my motorcycle goggles!), and caught one digging into my chest.
Once they get comfortable, they attach their barbed mouthparts to the skin and start drawing out blood. Contrary to popular belief, they do not burrow into your body. When they've had their fill (this could take days), the females will drop to the ground and go on to lay a few thousand eggs. I'm thankful they have the decency to drop off before laying eggs!
This tick is known to carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia but these diseases are rare in Canada. In British Columbia, this tick causes a disease called tick paralysis, and is characterized by increasing uncoordination and eventual collapse. Early symptoms include numbness in the legs, difficulty walking and standing. After that comes numbness or paralysis in higher parts of the body, including the throat and tongue. The first symptoms begin to appear after the female tick has been feeding for about 5 days, but a complete recovery is possible if the tick is removed before the symptoms become too extreme. If allowed to progress too far, death will occur. There is no cure for advanced tick paralysis.
So, realistically, the odds of eventually succumbing to death from a tick bite are very low...IF you are careful to check yourself for ticks after being in the bush, and are aware of the symptoms to watch for.
The Western Black-legged Tick
Like the Wood Tick, the Wester Black-legged Tick comes out in the spring but extends its presence into the early summer. It is found on vegetation in warm, moist areas on Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, and along the coast from the US Border up to Powell River. Its eastward range extends along the Fraser River to Yale and north to Boston Bar.
This tick's bite is painful and may result in a slow-healing ulcer. Unlike the Wood Tick, this one does not cause paralysis, but it can carry Lyme disease.
How to Deal With Ticks
I'm sure you've heard of a lot of ways to remove ticks, but here's the safe, effective, recommended method:
Pull them out with a slow, gentle pull using tweezers or fingers. Don't twist! This should remove the tick and its mouthparts. Afterwards, clean the bite with an antiseptic.
How to Avoid Ticks in the First Place
Symptoms of a Tick Bite
There's no need to avoid the woods during tick season. Just be aware of their presence and act accordingly. Have a good summer!
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