Dealing with Ticks While Camping
The past few years have seen the number of ticks increasing in Alberta and BC. While Lyme disease-carrying species remain rare in Alberta and BC (except for the coastal region) ticks do carry diseases and can cause skin irritation and inflammation and are best avoided. As many of us like to spend our weekends and vacations in ticks’ habitat it’s important to know how to identify prevent and remove ticks. That’s why we’ve got some tips on how to deal with ticks while camping.
What is a tick?
Ticks are an insect that feed on the blood of humans and animals. They are oval shaped with eight legs as small as 0.4 cm and as large as 1.4 cm in length. Generally red-brown in colour they turn blue-grey when full of blood. Eleven different species of tick are found in Alberta with the most common being the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick. British Columbia is home to twenty species of tick though only three regularly feed on humans including the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick and the Western Black-Legged Tick.
Why are ticks a concern?
Ticks carry diseases such as encephalitis typhus tick paralysis Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease. The main concern with ticks is Lyme disease a bacterial infection affecting humans and animals. It’s early symptoms include fever headache muscle and joint pain fatigue and face muscle weakness or paralysis. Many people also experience a “bullseye” rash around the infected tick bite. Luckily according to Health Alberta the blacklegged ticks that carry this disease are not widely found around Alberta and even fewer of these will be carrying Lyme disease. This species is found in BC however though mostly around the coastal areas.
Where are ticks found?
Ticks love grassy and wooded areas. They are often found along animal trails or overgrown areas where they can easily find a new host. Peak tick season in Alberta is spring and they normally pose much less of a threat after June. Ticks are also found in early spring and summer throughout BC.
How to Prevent Ticks
The best way to prevent tick bites is to avoid places where they live. Avoid walking in tall grassy areas or hiking through wooded areas on overgrown or animal trails. If you take a rest try to sit on areas free of vegetation such as rocks.
Wear light-coloured clothing so that ticks are easier to spot and make sure you cover as much skin as possible. Wear a hat long sleeves pants and tuck your pants into your socks – while this may look a little silly it makes it harder for ticks to get access to your skin.
You should use bug spray with DEET or Icaridin and make sure you reapply often according to the label.
Most importantly be sure to check yourself pets and anyone else you’re with for ticks especially the scalp neck and legs.
If you live or vacation in an area with lots of ticks Healthlink BC provides some advice for keeping ticks away from your home or cabin here .
How to Remove Ticks
Ticks should be removed as soon as they are found. If it’s not attached to your skin simply brush it off. If it is attached to your skin be sure that you don’t remove it too quickly (and leave the head behind in your skin) or cause it to burst by following these steps:
- Use tweezers to grasp the tick’s head and mouth as close to the skin as you can.
- Slowly pull straight back without twisting.
- Clean the bite area with soap and water then disinfect it.
- Wash your hands.
Don’t squish the tick while it’s still attached to you. You should also not use fire petroleum jelly tape or any other methods to remove the tick as they are not effective and can cause the tick to regurgitate or burst. This increases your chances of disease.
Once you’ve removed a tick put it in a clean container with a small piece of lightly moistened tissue or cotton. Don’t add ventilation holes. Submit it for testing as soon as possible to the “Submit-a-Tick” Program in Alberta or BC to help track ticks and lyme disease. You can submit the tick to your doctor or an Alberta Health Services Environmental Health Office.
Don’t forget about your pets!
Ticks like to feed on animals too including your pets! They can cause skin irritation inflammation abscesses muscle weakness and paralysis in your animals. The ticks can also jump off your pet and latch onto you.
Use DEET or Icaridin bug sprays on your outdoor animals and there are also topical and oral products that will kill ticks when they bite. Be sure to inspect your pets after a walk and check the morning after too as ticks get larger as they feed and are easier to find. Remove the ticks in the same fashion as above or you can take your pet to a vet. You should also submit removed ticks and most veterinarians will accept them.