When my husband and I moved into interior British Columbia, we started a tally of the number of ticks we found on ourselves. Several times we ended up pantless and paranoid on a hillside, shaking out our clothes and rummaging through each other’s hair.
Think or see ticks, and Lyme disease comes to mind, right?
As I did some research on how to remove a tick if we ever found one embedded, I found out the tick we’d been seeing was a wood tick. According to the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation, it didn’t carry Lyme disease.
Canada is home to 40 species of ticks, and it was comforting to find out only a few can actually transmit this feared disease. Of those, the infamous blacklegged tick or deer tick (Ixodes scapularis) is distributed through most of Canada, the western blacklegged tick (Ixodes pacificus) is mainly found from mid to eastern Canada, and the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum) is slowly spreading north from its home in the US.
But, while the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) can carry Lyme disease, it is not known to transmit it.
The Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni) is a common sight in south western Canada at elevations above 4,000 feet, and unlike deer ticks, which love the heat of the summer, this species is more active during the spring and fall and doesn’t transmit Lyme disease.
Like the brown dog tick and the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), which is found east of the Rockies, the wood tick can carry and spread Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF). RMSF is a bacterial infection which causes symptoms like extreme headaches, high fever and rashes on the wrists and ankles. It can be deadly.
Ticks are an unavoidable part of spending time outdoors, so if you like hiking during seasons other than winter, take some precautions. Wear long pants, long sleeves and check yourself and your family for ticks after adventures. Scrubbing your skin and hair well in the shower can help get rid of ticks before they get a chance to burrow.
If you find a tick embedded in your skin it is always best to remove it as soon as possible, regardless of species.
Don’t use a lighter or your fingers to try remove the tick, nor try suffocating it with oil. These methods can result in the tick regurgitating its stomach contents or burrowing deeper.
Rather, use a tick removal kit, which includes everything you need to properly detach the tick, or some fine pointed tweezers.
If using tweezers, grasp the mouthparts which are buried in your skin and slowly pull it straight up and out. Make sure to not grip the body.
A simple drinking straw and length of thread or floss is easily packed on camping and hiking trips and can be used as well.
Poise the straw at a 45-degree angle over the tick. Tie the thread loosely around the straw, slide it down over the mouthparts of the tick and slowly tighten the knot. Remove the straw and pull the string steadily upwards to detach the tick.
You can also head to the doctor, where they will inject a bit of medication beneath your skin to create a blister under the tick, making it detach itself.
Once the tick is removed, wash the area with soap and water and disinfect with an antiseptic.
If the burrowed tick was one of the species that can carry Lyme disease, or if you are not sure, don’t wait until you notice symptoms. Go to the doctor for precautionary antibiotics as soon as possible.
Even if they don’t carry a scary disease, there is something undeniably creepy about those eight-legged crawlies. Hopefully knowing what type of ticks live in your area, which species carry and transmit diseases and having the know-how to properly remove them gives you the confidence to keep adventuring during tick season!
Note: Always consult with your doctor, especially if you notice these signs and symptoms of Lyme disease.