There is a lot of talk about ticks these days. Why? Because of the risk of Lyme disease. However, the risk of contracting this disease is very low, but confirmed cases are increasing, and not everybody reacts the same way. However, when at all possible, it’s best to avoid ticks entirely when you’re hiking the Canadian Rockies!
I recently chatted with a member of CALS – Central Alberta Lyme Society. Here is a summary of this discussion.
What Is A Tick?
CALS: Ticks are technically small arachnids,, but most people call them bugs.
Source: TickEncounter Resource Center.
What is Lyme disease?
CALS: Lyme Disease is the umbrella term used to describe all Lyme disease and co-infections caused by Lyme borreliosis, an infectious disease caused by bacteria of the Borrelia type.
One of the most significant issues with Lyme Disease is that it is known as the great imitator, as it mimics other conditions so that diagnoses can be tricky.
What other diseases does Lyme Disease Mimic?
CALS: the list of symptoms is long. It can imitate Multiple Sclerosis, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Lupus, to name a few. CALS has put together the following information pamphlet.
Here is a link to the downloadable PDF.
CALS Brochure 04 2018
What are the symptoms of Lyme Disease?
Some of the symptoms of Lyme Disease are:
- Typical skin rash found with Lyme Disease – appearing in a bullseye formation
- General malaise
Do all ticks carry Lyme disease?
CALS: Janet Sperling, an entomologist for U of A, has found 1 in 5 ticks carry Borrelia that said almost all ticks are carrying something from Bartonella to Rocky Mountain Fever.
It isn’t just the adult ticks that can infect you; the nymphs can also infect you. The Blacked Legged Tick (found in Canada, other than BC) and Western Black-Legged Tick(found only in BC) carry Lyme disease in Canada.
Are Ticks Found Across Canada?
CALS: Yes, ticks found in specific areas within the following provinces are currently identified risk areas in Canada. These areas are British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
What season are ticks most active in the Rockies?
CALS: Ticks can be active all year long including the warmer days in the winter.
Additional Information from Take a Hike With Your Children: The risk of Lyme Disease is higher in the late spring and early summer because that is when the ticks are born. Ticks in the Nymph stage need to feed twice. They are not born with Lyme Disease but contract it if one of their hosts is infected. Nymphs are VERY small and hard to see. They can be the size of a poppy seed and therefore hard to see and remove, increasing the risk of getting bitten and potentially contracting Lyme Disease.
I read that Lyme disease has historically been a “Hikers Disease” and that urban dwellers never need to worry. However, a 2014 Globe and Mail article points out that “Disease-carrying ticks in Canada have increased tenfold in the past two decades, spread by migratory birds and nurtured by warming climates that allow them to thrive in our backyards.”
What can you do to prevent ticks in our backyard?
CALS: To prevent ticks in your backyard, keep your grass short. Try not to attract migratory birds. Try to keep rodents and deer away, rake up the leaves, and dispose of clutter.
In addition to birds, what other animals can ticks hitch a ride on?
CALS: Ticks in Canada can also be found on mice, birds, moose, rabbits, dogs. They don’t distinguish as much as we think they sense the warmth of another animal and then go for it!
Many people hike with dogs. What parts of our body and our dogs should we check for ticks?
CALS: Check your entire body for ticks, especially the less obvious spots highlighted on the poster.
Can dogs also get Lyme disease? If they get it, can they pass it to humans?
CALS: Dogs can get Lyme disease, and most vets know this and warn their clients. There is a Lyme vaccination for dogs. As far as I know, dogs can’t pass Lyme Disease to us, but if your pooch has a tick on them and you cuddle him, it can detach and then attach to you.
Additional Information from Take A Hike With Your Children: Not all dogs will get Lyme disease, and “90 to 95 percent of dogs that get infected with the Lyme disease bacterium from a tick bite do not get sick because they get rid of it on their own” CBC Article – July 11, 2017
I read that if you get to a doctor fast enough, they can put you on a course of antibiotics, and that should eliminate Lyme Disease. If that is the case, why are people so worried about getting bit by a tick?
CALS: Testing for Lyme Disease in Canada is flawed, often taking years for a diagnosis. Treatment for Lyme Disease is hard to find and expensive.
Additional Information from Take a Hike With Your Children: Health Canada had a conference to develop a framework on Lyme Disease in 2016, and the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation is “working with provincial and federal governments on the creation of new laboratory, clinical, and surveillance guidelines for Canada for TBID.” Source: Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation.
How long does it take for a tick to “dig in” into your skin?
CALS: Not long, and it is a myth that they have to be attached for a specific length of time to pass the disease. The concern is when the tick regurgitates into the host. That is why proper removal is essential.
If an infected tick bites you, how soon after will you experience symptoms of Lyme Disease?
CALS: It can be that day or 2 weeks, or 2 months. We say to watch for any changes mentally or physically for three months.
This is why it’s always best to wear appropriate footwear and clothing for hiking, and to thoroughly check yourself for any stray ticks when hiking the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
Do some people carry a natural antibody to Lyme Disease?
CALS: I’m not sure. This seems to be the missing puzzle piece, why do some get it, and some don’t, why do some people get cured with basic treatment, and some don’t. More research is needed on Lyme Disease.
Does everyone bit by a tick get the telltale bullseye rash?
CALS: No, I didn’t.
How Can You Prevent Being Bitten By A Tick While Hiking?
- Wear light clothing – you can see the ticks better
- Wear long pants and socks, or gaiters
- Pull your socks over your pants
- Wear long sleeves
- Wear closed-toe shoes
- A shower or bath after being outside will wash off any loose ticks
- Do a “full-body” check, particularly on little kids: hair, behind the ears
- Females should use a “stand to pee” personal urination device. If they don’t have one, they need to do a thorough tick check of that area
- Avoid walking in tall grass
- Hike with a friend (you should anyway), and have them “check your back” for any hitchhikers
- Wear a hat, and if you don’t, you should thoroughly check your scalp
- Wear insect repellent. (check out this link if you are not a fan of chemical repellants)
- When you get home, take off all your clothes, put in the dryer on high for 15 mins, then wash in hot and dry again
- Check animal before cuddling with them or letting them on furniture or beds
How Do I Remove A Tick Properly?
Tips For Removing A Tick – Do:
- Make sure you have a decent pair of tweezers used for tick removal in your first aid kit. CALS has a tick-removal kit.
- With tweezers, gently grasp its head and mouth as close to the skin as possible.
- Pull the tick straight out, do not jerk it or twist it. The goal is to remove the entire tick, not just parts of it.
Tips For Removing A Tick – Don’t:
- Don’t squash it
- Don’t apply lit matches, cigarettes, or petroleum jellies to a tick, as these may cause the infected tick to release the bacteria into the wound.
- Don’t use any liquids, oils, lotions or potions to remove the tick.
What should someone do with the tick?
CALS: We collect ticks and send them to Janet Sperling in Edmonton for her research project at the U of A. Each sample must be sealed in a small bottle with part of a moist cotton ball; included info should be: Contact information -Date -Geographical area tick was found. -Host animal (if there was one). And to mail ASAP to 9131 118 Street Edmonton, Alberta T6G1T4
In Summary: Ticks And The Canadian Rockies
In 2009 there were 144 cases of confirmed Lyme Disease cases in Canada. In 2016 this number rose to 992 confirmed cases in Canada; 88% of the cases are from Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. Source: Government of Canada Public Health Services.
In 2017, 382 ticks were sent to the National Microbiology Lab in Manitoba; 32 were deer ticks, and two tested positive for Lyme Disease. Source: CBC News, Ticks that can transmit Lyme Disease found at Ojibway Prairie Complex.
It seems that the risk of contracting Lyme Disease from a tick in the Rockies is still quite low. However, there is no doubt that it is a debilitating disease and that more education and research are required. For now, prevention is the best medicine.
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