If you enjoy camping, gardening, golfing, or work at parks or grassy areas, you’re most likely to spend much time outdoors in nature. While doing so, it’s easy to forget about the tiny, inconspicuous parasites like ticks that stay in the grass and shrubs. Being aware of ticks and protecting yourself from their bites will help you avoid tick-borne diseases, letting you make the most of your experiences in nature without regrets.
Ticks are tiny parasites that latch onto the skin and feed on blood to survive. Notably, not all ticks are vectors of diseases, but those that are carry bacterial, viral and protozoan pathogens capable of causing illnesses in our bodies. So, protecting yourself from these parasites is essential regardless of the specific tick species you may encounter outdoors. You’ll usually find ticks in wooded areas, forests and grassy landscapes, thriving when outdoor temperatures are above four degrees, making spring, summer and fall their most active seasons.
According to the National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health, Canada has seen a recent growth in ticks because of climate change, animal migration and land fragmentation. The predominant tick-borne infections in Canada range from Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, babesiosis to Rocky Mountain spotted fever and other tick-borne pathogens. Among these, Lyme disease and anaplasmosis pose the highest risk of infection.
Protecting yourself from tick bites:
- Wear Protective Clothing: Wearing light-coloured clothing helps you spot ticks easily. When going into wooded or grassy areas, dress in long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks, and closed-toe shoes. Tuck your pants into your socks or boots to stop ticks from reaching your skin.
- Use Tick Repellents: Apply tick repellent containing DEET or Icaridin to exposed skin and clothing. Permethrin can also be sprayed on clothing for long-lasting protection.
- Perform Regular Tick Checks: After spending time outdoors, conduct a tick check on yourself, your children, and your pets. Ticks often stay in hidden areas like the scalp, behind the ears, underarms, and in the groin area. Take a shower within two hours of coming indoors. This helps wash off any unattached ticks and allows you to do a more detailed tick check.
- Avoid Tick-Prone Areas: When possible, stay on cleared paths and trails and avoid dense underbrush, tall grasses, and leaf litter where ticks tend to inhabit.
- Protect Your Pets: Ticks can latch onto your pets and then transfer to you. Use tick preventive treatments recommended by your veterinarian and regularly check your pets for ticks.
- Keep Outdoor Spaces Tick-Safe: Maintain outdoor spaces around your houses by mowing your lawn regularly, removing leaves and trimming overgrown bushes. This will prevent ticks from staying in the area.
How to safely remove ticks:
Use fine-tipped tweezers to grab the tick close to your skin’s surface and pull upward steadily without twisting or jerking the parasite. Place the tick in a closed container or a plastic bag and kill it before disposing it. Clean the bite area with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer.
If you start experiencing rash, fever, or flu-like symptoms within 30 days of tick exposure, talk to your healthcare provider.