5 Myths About Ticks & Tick Safety Tips

by - Sunday, April 12, 2015

It's tick season, so we need to be aware of where ticks hang out, cover up, and do tick checks after every hike. I became more concerned about ticks after a good friend of mine was diagnosed with Lyme Disease in 2011 after being very sick for four years. Had my friend received treatment shortly after contracting Lyme Disease, her recovery would have been quick (few rounds of antibiotics). Instead, she had to fly to the U.S. to be diagnosed and dealt with severe health problems for 7 years due to late treatment. While Lyme Disease is easy to treat if caught early, it is difficult to diagnose in Canada as the Canadian blood test has a high rate of false negatives and many doctors in Alberta will not test for it as they do not believe Lyme Disease can be caught here. Please learn the facts so you can avoid catching Lyme Disease and other tick-borne illnesses.

Deer Tick (Ixodes scapularis), the most common carrier of Lyme Disease in Canada.
Image Credit: Pixabay.com

5 Myths About Ticks

  • Myth 1: Ticks carrying Lyme Disease do not live here. Birds carry ticks, so it is easy for Lyme Disease (and other illnesses) to be carried from place to place. "Of the 139 [deer ticks] found in Alberta last year, one in five tested positive for the bacteria; and that number has health officials on alert." People have contracted Lyme Disease in Alberta and Lyme carrying ticks have been found on pets in urban centres. Be tick aware in urban parks as well as mountain parks!
  • Myth 2: Ticks only spread disease in the spring.Overwintered and new adult ticks are most common in the early spring and fall period, whereas the smaller nymphs are generally most active and peak in the summer months."2 Ticks "go dormant as the temperature drops below 40° F [4.4 C]."
  • Myth 3: Deer Ticks only bite deer and Dog Ticks only bite dogs. Deer and dog ticks have been named after the animals they are most frequently found on, but they will feed off of anything they can.
  • Myth 4: All ticks have 8 legs. All ADULT ticks have 8 legs, but their larvae have only 6 legs.4
  • Myth 5: Ticks drop on you from trees. "Ticks live in the soil and emerge to climb tall grass, shrubs, bushes and low level tree branches up to a height of 20cm-70cm in search of a blood host. They attach when people or animals brush past."5 They can, however, drop from birds (a common host), and "are 'programmed' to try and attach around your head and ears" (Source), so wearing a hat can also help keep hitchhikers off your scalp!
"People are getting ticks anywhere — their backyards and the river valley. There doesn’t seem to be any pattern we can pick out,” said Daniel Fitzgerald, a laboratory technologist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development.6 


American Dog Tick (?) we found on my daughter's head

Tick Safety 

Full grown disease carrying ticks are only 1-5 mm in length7, and the larvae (as big as a grain of sand) and nymphs (poppy seed sized) are even smaller, so a tick check will not detect all critters. The good news is that ticks generally take several hours to get settled in a feeding spot - usually somewhere warm and protected like your groin or armpits - and do not transmit disease until they have been attached for at least 36 hours8, (though some sources say 24 hrs) so you have plenty of time to detect and remove any ticks. Here are some ways to prevent tick borne diseases:
  1. Use bug spray that contains 20-30% DEET or 0.5% permethrin. Be sure to spray your footwear! (www.cdc.gov/ticks/avoid/on_people.html)
  2. Cover up! Wear long sleeved shirts and pants. Gaiters should be worn in tall grass or bushes to prevent ticks from getting in at your ankles. Tucking your pants into your socks will work too.
  3. Wear a hat. If you have long hair, keep it up in a ponytail.
  4. Wear light colored clothes so it is easier to see ticks. If you see any, brush them off immediately! *Check your backpack for hitchhikers too!
  5. Stay out of tall grass and brush as much as possible.
  6. Avoid sitting on the ground on the side of the trail. Sit on a bench or rocks at hiking breaks instead. (This said, ticks can be found on rocks, too. Mountain sheep, birds and other animals carry them, so where there are animals, there can be ticks).
  7. Remove ticks immediately & remove them correctly. The risk of disease transmission is "0% – 1% if it is attached for less than 72 hours."9 
  8. Shower and scrub with a washcloth after hiking to remove any little critters you can't see that haven't attached to you.
  9. Comb your hair and check your children's hair for ticks. Ticks like to bury into your scalp where it's warm and there's less chance of detection.
  10. After hiking, toss hiking clothes in the dryer on high heat for 20 minutes (10 minutes if you have a gas dryer). The heat of the dryer will kill any ticks. Dry then wash clothes!10 
Fully engorged tick that likely fed for several days.
For more information on which tick repellents to use and how to use them, please see this post.

Remember that not all ticks carry diseases, so there is no need to panic if you find a tick already attached to you. Be sure to remove it though (see #7 above)!

Cover up, wear a hat and use bug spray to keep ticks off of you! Tutu optional. : )
If you find a tick on you or near you in Alberta, submit it to the Submit A Tick program. Details here: http://www.health.alberta.ca/health-info/lyme-disease.html Ticks found on pets can be submitted to your veterinarian.

References

  1. Shapiro, E. D. (2014). Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease), Pediatrics in Review, 35(12), 500-509
  2. www.tickencounter.org/ticksmart/tips

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6 comments

  1. Re #6: have found ticks on summits, among rocks and no grass. I think anywhere there are lots of sheep there are lots of ticks.

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  2. I just found out about this and regret not knowing sooner! Sounds amazing keep up the good work!

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  3. You're right, Marko! Wildlife carry ticks around, so they could be anywhere. Why ticks checks are our best defense!

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  4. Thanks Emily! A thorough tick check (and tick removal if necessary) is the best thing you can do to stay safe, but we also spray our footwear with insect repellent as a precaution.

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