Ticks are starting to awaken from their winter slumber and can be found across the Thompson-Okanagan region

Beware the ticks of March

They're creepy, they're crawly and they live right here in the Okanagan.

March is National Tick Awareness Month and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and Merck Animal Health are advising Canadians to stay vigilant, because ticks can carry some nasty ailments.

“Recent research has shown that ticks infected with tick-borne pathogens like Borrelia burgdoferi (commonly known as lyme disease) and Anaplasma phagocytophilum may actually be more resilient than uninfected ticks, especially in our colder Canadian climate,” said Dr. Trevor Lawson, CVMA president.

“These ‘fitter, better, faster, stronger’ ticks can increase the risk for people and pets across our country, especially at times of the year when ticks might not be top of mind.”

Ticks infected with these pathogens may demonstrate improved recovery following subzero temperatures, increased feeding abilities, elevated survival rates and enhanced cold tolerance.

Dr. Heather Coatsworth of the Public Health Agency of Canada will review tick surveillance in Canada, and how tick and tick-borne disease distribution is changing, including emerging pathogens and potential drivers for this change.

Anyone who has lived in the B.C. Interior for any length of time has likely had an encounter with a tick or knows someone who has.

They can be found year-round, but are most likely to bite from March to June.

Ticks will lie in wait on a branch or tall grass, waiting for an unsuspecting person or animal to brush by. They then latch onto their victim and bury their heads under the skin.

Staying out of the woods is no guarantee you won't encounter ticks.

Rob Higgins, an entomologist with the department of biological sciences at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, said in an earlier interview with Castanet that the most common area to find ticks is on grasslands, but they can be found in urban environments as well.

“You can definitely pick them up in town, even when you think you're walking in urban areas, because you’re brushing up against grasses on the side of the sidewalks,” he said.

If a tick has bitten you, Higgins says the best way to remove it is to take a pair of forceps or tweezers, slide them under the tick and pull backwards firmly – but not abruptly.

It will often take about 30 seconds of firm pressure to pull the tick out.

The variety most often found in B.C. is the Rocky Mountain wood tick.

Western black legged ticks, a species which Higgins said exists in low numbers in B.C., can carry Lyme disease. Each year, there are around a dozen Lyme cases discovered in the province, but about half those originate from outside the region.

Ticks can also carry other diseases, such as tick paralysis. According to Higgins, this disease mostly affects animals and he said vets and ranchers see cases each year.

Overall, it’s important to be careful, but most ticks in B.C. aren’t harmful.

“People don’t like ticks, fortunately here we don’t need to worry about them a great deal," he said.

"You definitely want to remove them, you want to keep your eyes on your pets for symptoms of paralysis, but otherwise, we can consider the vast majority of them to be harmless.”

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