Now that summer is here, many of us will be heading into the great outdoors to enjoy hiking, camping and other recreational activities.
If you’re spending time in tall grass, brush or wooded areas, you may be exposed to insect or tick bites. Ticks are tiny arachnids that feed on the blood of humans and animals and in very rare cases, can transmit disease-causing bacteria. While less than 1% of ticks in BC carry the bacteria that can cause Lyme disease, the condition can be serious for those infected.
“There are a number of precautions you can take to protect yourself against tick bites,” says Dr. Dee Hoyano, Medical Health Officer for the Vancouver Island Health Authority. “First, make sure you’re covered-up; wear light-coloured clothing including a long-sleeved shirt that you can tuck into your pants and then tuck your pants into your boots or socks.”
Other steps you can take to protect yourself against tick and insect bites:
- Walk on cleared trails wherever possible.
- Apply insect repellent containing DEET on all uncovered skin and reapply as directed.
- Carefully check clothing, scalp (whether wearing a hat or not) and any exposed skin when leaving an area where ticks might live.
- Regularly check pets for ticks.
“Lyme disease is uncommon on Vancouver Island,” adds Dr. Hoyano. “The disease can be serious however, so it’s worth taking steps to avoid being bitten.”
Ticks are easiest to spot when they are actually sucking blood. The feeding tick’s mouth will be under the skin, but the rest of it (which is blue-grey in colour) will be visible. A tick should be removed carefully, without crushing it.
To find out more about ticks or what to do if you find one:
- Healthlink BC: http://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthfiles/hfile01.stm.
- BCCDC Lyme Disease information: http://www.bccdc.ca/dis-cond/a-z/_l/LymeDisease/default.htm
What should I do if I find a tick on my skin?
If you find a tick on your skin, you will need to remove it as soon as possible. Check your whole body and clothing. Do not stop when you find one tick. There may be more. Make sure the lighting is good, so you do not miss seeing the tick(s). If you can not reach the tick or see it clearly, get someone else to remove the tick for you or get your health care professional to remove it.
When to get a doctor to remove the tick
You should see and ask your health care professional to remove the tick if it has buried itself deep into your skin.
This happens if the tick has been on you for several hours or even a day or two. When a tick has burrowed deep into your skin, it is very hard to remove the tick without leaving some mouth parts behind, which can cause an infection.
Removing a tick
If you can remove the tick yourself, follow these instructions.
- Use tweezers to gently get a hold of the tick as close to its mouth as possible. The body of the tick will be above your skin. Do not touch the tick with your hands. Wear gloves if possible.
Steadily lift the tick straight off the skin. Do not squeeze the tick because this can force its stomach contents into the wound and increase the chance of an infection. Do not jerk, unscrew or twist the tick because this may separate the head from the body. It is very important to make sure that all of the tick, including the mouth parts buried in your skin, is removed.
Once the tick has been removed, clean the area with soap and water. You may also put a small amount of antibiotic ointment on the area. Wash your hands with soap and water.
You can not remove a tick by covering it with grease or gasoline, or by holding a match or cigarette against the tick. This does not work. This may increase the chance of you getting an infection.
What to do with the tick once it is removed
If the tick is alive, put the live tick in a small container with a tight fitting lid and with a cotton ball dampened with water to keep it alive. Do not use rubbing alcohol or any other liquid. Only live ticks can be tested for infection. Put the container in the fridge. It can remain there for up to 8 days, until you speak with your doctor or public health unit to see if the tick should be submitted for testing.
Contact your health care professional or local health authority for more information. Your health care professional may do an assessment and send the tick to the BC Centre for Disease Control for testing, if required.