As Kelowna enjoys the first official week of spring, thoughts turn to balmy temperatures and outdoor activities. But there are also dangers that are associated with the changing of the seasons: it is once again tick season in the Okanagan.
These small bugs bite and feed on the blood of humans and animals and can sometimes transmit disease. The most common species of tick in the Interior Health region is the Wood Tick – a species that does not carry the Lyme disease bacteria. They are often found in tall grass and wooded areas, but Dr. Karin Goodison, a public health physician with Interior Health says there are some easy ways to stay safe.
“Covering up before you head outdoors and checking for ticks when returning from a walk, hike, or bike ride are simple things that go a long way to prevent tick bites,” says Goodison.
“Most tick bites do not cause illness; however, any bite from a tick or other insect should be cleaned with soap and water because infection can occur whenever there is a break in the skin.”
Ticks also have toxins that can cause temporary muscle weakness and paralysis if they are attached for several days, especially in children or seniors, but the symptoms fade once the tick is removed from the skin. The signs of many tick-borne infections can be quite similar and include fever, headache, muscle pain, and rash.
Some everyday precautions to reduce the risk of tick illnesses include:
- Walking on cleared trails when in tall grass or wooded areas.
- Wearing a hat, long sleeves, pants, and light-coloured clothing.
- Tucking pant legs into socks or boots.
- Applying insect repellent containing DEET on uncovered skin.
- Carefully checking clothing and scalp (covered or not) when leaving an area where ticks may live.
To reduce ticks from entering your home and yard, try these steps:
- Keep your lawn short and remove any fallen leaves and weeds.
- Keep a buffer area such as wood-chip or gravel border between your lawn and wooded areas or stone walls.
- 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.
If you find a tick on yourself, a family member, or pet, wear gloves and gently remove it. Be careful not to crush the tick as this could cause it to inject its stomach contents into your skin. If you find a tick, check very carefully for others.
Other tips to remove ticks safely include:
- Use needle-nose tweezers to gently grasp the tick close to the skin.
- Without squeezing, pull the tick straight out.
- After removal, clean the area with soap and water.