Tick populations are exploding, and people are at greater risk now than ever of acquiring tick bites, and being exposed to the pathogens ticks may carry.
The great news is tick-borne diseases are totally preventable and your first step towards preventing becoming infected with tick-borne diseases is avoidance. There are several key steps you can take to minimise your chances of encountering these nefarious creepy crawlers while you and your loved ones adventure outside.
Wear light coloured clothing so you’ll have an easier time spotting the contrasting darker ticks. Ticks will have a much harder time finding a spot to bite if you wear long sleeves, shirts tucked into waistbands, pant legs tucked into socks, and closed toe shoes.
Areas to avoid:
Ticks are most often found in tall grass, shrubbery, leaf litter, wood piles, rock walls, and on forest floors. Be aware of your surroundings and careful to avoid shady, moist areas, as they are ideal tick habitats. Stay on trails instead of wandering through overgrown floor level vegetation.
Repellents and removers:
Make sure to spray yourself with a proven effective tick repellent, and reapply as needed. Bring along a tick remover or tick removal kit with you to safely remove an embedded tick as soon as possible.
Conduct regular tick checks of yourself, your children and your pets, during and after your time outside. Children and pets acquire the greatest number of tick bites, likely due to their closer proximity to the threat and they're generally more rambunctious, less cautious behaviour. Be sure to have someone help you to check the areas of your body you cannot examine yourself (i.e. scalp).
Have a shower within two hours of arriving home from outside. A shower will help to wash off unattached ticks, and will allow you to have a thorough examination of your body.
High Heat Dryer:
Because they can be quite small and might wiggle their way into pockets, hems, and other unseen spots, you can throw your clothes into the dryer on high heat for a minimum of ten minutes to kill any ticks you can’t see. You will need to dry for longer if your clothing is damp. We suggest using natural material dryer balls to lift and separate your clothing for more thorough and efficient drying/heating.
What if you get bitten?
It can happen, even if you have taken all precautions to avoid ticks, nothing is 100%. That is why it is so important to do your tick checks. Ticks carry many dangerous, life altering diseases, including Lyme, so it is of the utmost importance to remove a tick in a timely manner and the correct way in order to avoid infection.
Proper Tick Removal
Plan and be proactive, have all the correct tools on hand. Use gloves and have alcohol pads available for clean up.
If you can, use latex gloves
Slide it in as close to the skin as possible.
Slowly but consistently pull away from the area with even pressure.
Wash the site with antiseptic or soap and water, and monitor over the following weeks for any signs of rash or infection.
Do not use flat headed tweezers, this will squeeze the embedded tick. You will empty its stomach and mouth contents, which may include up to 20 different pathogens, directly into your body.
Do not twist the tick to remove it as you will greatly increase the chance of breaking the tick’s mouth parts off, which will stay embedded in your skin.
Do not pour oil or lubricants on top of the embedded tick. If you do so the tick may eventually release and back out, but only after the likelihood has increased that it will regurgitate pathogens into your body.
Do not apply a lit match to the embedded tick. Doing so will shock the tick, increasing the likelihood that it will regurgitate pathogens into your body, while likely causing a burn and creating additional potential for infection.
Finding and removing an embedded tick can be an alarming experience. As we know, ticks can carry a variety of pathogens so it’s important to know what kind of tick you’ve been bitten by (see connecting blog about tick types) to narrow down what diseases you may have been exposed to. It is also imperative to seek medical help immediately if you’ve been bitten by a tick - the sooner you receive treatment for a tick borne disease, the better your chance of recovery.
In the initial weeks after the bite, it is important to be keenly aware of any changes in your health, including whether or not a bullseye rash appears at the bite site, or any other skin abnormalities, fevers, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, or flu-like symptoms emerge. These symptoms are typical of Lyme disease, but this illness can show up differently in people, so any noticeable changes in health should be noted and reported to your physician.
Not all tick-borne diseases show up as described above, so it is good to know what the symptoms of the major tick-borne illnesses are. You can find a detailed list of each illness and their associated symptoms here.
As unpleasant as it may be, it can be beneficial to keep the tick after removal. If you decide to do this you will need to place the tick in a sealable container, like this one included in our AtlanTick Tick Kit. You can add alcohol to the container to submerge and kill the tick, while allowing it to remain intact. Once safely contained you can use the saved tick to identify the species, and the potential risks associated with it. We strongly urge you to be sure that the tick is dead before disposing of it.
If you’re having a hard time with the idea of waiting for symptoms to emerge, you can send the tick itself in for testing, to find out which pathogens it may be carrying. There are several labs across North America who charge relatively minimally for this type of service, though the illnesses they test for may be limited and, depending on which lab you choose, the time it takes to complete the testing can vary from days to several months.
If you choose to go this route, you might need to keep the tick alive, contained and intact. Requirements for submission can be different from lab to lab, some accepting live ticks, some taking ticks submerged in alcohol, and some requiring you to deep freeze the sample before shipping. In each case it is helpful to label the container with the date and location the bite occurred.
Learn more about tick-testing laboratories in Canada.