Among the creatures emerging from hibernation in the valley are ticks — spider-like parasites that can carry lyme disease — and they’ve prompted a seasonal warning from Interior Health.
Fortunately for those in the interior of British Columbia, contracting Lyme disease from a tick is very uncommon.
“Lyme disease is more prevalent with the types of ticks they have on the coast,” said Dr. Rob Parker, medical health officer with Interior Health.
Dr. Parker said there are two species of ticks in British Columbia that bite humans, and only one kind, Wood Ticks, appear in the province’s interior. While Wood Ticks aren’t known to carry Lyme disease, cases have been reported in the interior from patients who did not travel.
“So there is some indication of low-level risk for Lyme disease in the interior,” said Dr. Parker.
Wood Ticks can also carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever, he said, but that, too, is very rare.
To feed on prey, ticks excrete poison, paralyzing small rodents that would otherwise try to scratch them off. While human bodies are normally too large for the poison to have an effect, Dr. Parker said a mild form of tick-borne paralysis can occur if ticks remain intact for prolonged periods.
“With the poison they use to paralyze their normal prey, children or seniors could become subject to a mild form called tick-borne paralysis,” he said.
Because Lyme disease has been found in people who never noticed a tick on them, Dr. Parker said it’s possible for ticks to attach and detach without ever being detected. Evidence ticks will leave behind include a bull’s-eye target rash from the site of the bite, as well as fever and pains. Those symptoms should be reported to a doctor, he said, who can prescribe the proper antibiotic treatment.
Most cases won’t require medical attention, however, and can be removed with a pair of tweezers.
“You should only remove it with really fine tweezers right from where it attaches to the skin,” said Dr. Parker. “You don’t want to pull or push the body – that would squirt the interior contents of the tick under your skin.”
The task can be tricky, and can be taken care of at a medical walk-in clinic.
But regardless of how each removal turns out, “all tick bites should be cleaned, as infection can occur whenever there is a break in the skin,” said Jennifer Jeyes, Communicable Disease Specialist with Interior Health.
Aside from the health hazards, discovering a tick on your body is an unpleasant experience. To reduce the chances of acquiring a tick, Interior Health has issued the following practical precautions: avoid tall grass; wear long-sleeved, light-coloured clothing with a hat; tuck pant legs into sock or boots; apply insect repellent onto uncovered skin; and inspect your scalp and shower after spending time in tick habitats.
Ticks live in the valley year-round but become most active during the months following the spring thaw. The cold of winter is the only time of the year when ticks are dormant.
“As soon as the sun hits and the snow melts, they’re active,” said Dr. Parker. “If it’s above zero, then they’re looking for the blood meal to do an egg-laying cycle.”