Tick talk: Bacteria from ticks can cause Lyme disease

Hikers and pet owners should be aware of potential for disease

  • May. 23, 2012 8:00 p.m.

With the arrival of warmer weather, many of us will be heading into the 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 one per cent of ticks in B.C. 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. Murray Fyfe, Medical Health Office for the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA). “First, make sure you’re covered-up; wear light-coloured clothes 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. Fyfe.  “A small number of cases may be diagnosed in any given year, with the last case being reported in 2009. 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:   www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthfiles/hfile01.stm.

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