Tick Talk: A Dreaded Spring Burden

Spring, according to the calendar has officially arrived. {Insert eye roll}

Aside from not going outside and enjoying yourself at all in Ontario, there are few ways to prevent coming in contact with them. But when you know how to handle these inevitable unfortunate encounters, they become less and less nerve racking.

Ticks have this certain aura about them that make it hard to become desensitized. No matter what, they will invoke some involuntary skin crawling so you aren’t expected to enjoy these encounters. Here are some facts and tips on ticks.

While most think that because there is snow on the ground and we’re still experiencing cold nights, there is no cause for concern on ticks yet––this is false. There could be three feet of snow on the ground and you would still be at risk for picking up these unwanted stragglers.

On top of being downright gross, I also found out they are dang near indestructible. There is no such thing as squishing them, (and if you read on you’ll learn why you should never try) they are basically only susceptible to being cut in half, burned, or dried out.

Where You’ll Find them: Hint, Everywhere.

Like I mentioned above, if you enjoy or work in the outdoors, you will eventually come in contact with ticks. Ticks are not only found in long grass. They can be found in your garden, the woods/bogs, beaches and of course even your friendly neighbourhood nature park. Basically, everywhere there are living, breathing, blood pumping hosts for them to cling onto.

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What’s the Big Deal?

The major risk of tick bites of course, is contracting Lyme borreliosis. Lyme disease is transmitted to us humans with tick bites largely from the genus Ixodes (hard-bodied tick) family infected with a specific bacteria. Lyme is a pathogenic bacterium, in other words a bacteria that can transmit disease. Certainly not the good type of bacteria that helps you build your immune system or digest food better.

The ones in question are the black-legged ticks, also known as deer ticks. There is some heresy that other species of ticks may also carry the bacteria that causes Lyme.

This quote is from a tick dragging study done in northwestern Ontario in 2017. “Of the 102 black-legged ticks, 61 tested positive for the bacteria that causes Lyme disease (59.8%). “

So, How Do You Avoid Bites?

Above is the very reason tick encounters have such a bad rep. That and the fact (opinion) they are the devil’s spawn.

There are multiple ways you can decrease your chances of tick bites, and when you use all precautions together, you’re that much better off.

  • Permethrin Soak/Spray: This solution kills insects (not just ticks) that come in contact with your clothing. This is an excellent method to consider if you’re an avid hiker and/or spend extended periods outside. It’s also good for weekend warriors who just don’t want to have to worry about ticks. There are no studies yet on whether or not soaking is more effective than spraying, but if you take into consideration that soaking would cover not just the outside, but also the inside of your clothing, it’s easy to see how it’s more beneficial. TIP: If you choose to spray your clothing, I recommend first turning it inside out and spraying the inside, then spraying the outside following instruction from your chose method: diluted permethrin which is safe for immediate spraying or higher concentrated permethrin which you have to manually dilute.

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  • Tuck in EVERYTHING. Tuck your pant legs into your socks, rock the G-Ma look because it could make all the difference. Tuck your shirt into your pants, and put your hair up. You’ll still need to check your arms, neck, back, and hair afterwards.
  • Wear light coloured clothing. This will also help you against black flies, mosquitos and deer/horse flies. It’s a win-win.
  • Wear regular bug repellent on top of permethrin so you can cover your exposed skin. Female ticks will wait until they have a more secure place to chomp down, males will bite pretty well as soon as they land on you. It’s all about making them work really hard to get to your skin and then making your skin unappealing to them.

After You’re Outside

  • Have someone you feel comfortable with check you for ticks. This isn’t a Brad Paisley song, it’s just real life in Ontario.
  • If you can, do these checks BEFORE you get into your vehicle or back in your boat.
  • If you didn’t go through the trouble of tucking everything in (and even if you did) have a peek at your nether regions, arm pits, back, and again––your nether regions.
  • Check any children or dogs that may have been with you.
  • During the spring and early summer months, I keep a full length mirror by my front door and in my bedroom so I can triple check myself.

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What To Do When You Find One Latched:

Keeping a critter with blood lust to survive that’s also half the size of your pinky nail off of your inviting comparably huge canvas of skin isn’t easy. Even if you don’t spend long lengths of time in the outdoors, you’re still liable to come across a latched tick, on yourself or others.

Here’s how to remove them safely: 

We know ticks carry the bacteria that can cause Lyme. That’s hardly a secret. You’ve probably been told there’s a way you need to remove them, but you’ve never been told why they have to be removed this way.

You see, the bacteria within ticks that can cause Lyme is carried in their stomachs. This is why when you’re bitten by one, the chances of Lyme are lower if it’s been less than 24-hours from bite to discovery. It hasn’t had a chance to get from the ticks system, into yours.

When you remove a tick, the caution you take not to squeeze it, in Laymen’s terms, is so it doesn’t fast track the bacteria from the stomach of the tick, into your system. In other words, so the tick doesn’t vomit or drool into you. Gnarly right? Again, Devil’s spawn.

Removing a tick: 

With a pair of tweezers, you’ll want to get as close to the skin as possible. DO NOT yank on the tick, squeeze, burn, or otherwise distress the tick. The goal here is to safely remove the tick without it expelling any saliva (or more) from it’s insides into you.

As soon as you are as close to the skin as you can be with your tweezers, apply pressure on the tick and lift in a slow but steady motion. Again, do not yank or otherwise tear at the tick. The tick should come off fully intact.

Once you’ve removed the tick, clean the area with a soap and water or alcohol if you have it. Monitor the bite area. It’s important to keep an eye on it not just for the “Lyme Bullseye” but also for other health and safety reasons such as infections.

I found a video from the University of Manitoba that shows an excellent example of how to remove a tick. It has my approval, and I suggest you watch it, even if it makes you queasy.

Heebie Geebies:

Throw wolf spiders, snakes, or centipedes my way all you want, but there is something about ticks that make my skin crawl even just writing about them.

No one expects you to be “okay” with ticks being in your space, because let’s face it, no one is immune to them. Perhaps it’s their daunting inconspicuous size, or the threat they carry with them, but ticks are infamous among outdoors enthusiasts.

There are many topics when ignorance can be considered bliss, but not with ticks. Being tick savvy will help you prevent them altering your experiences in the outdoors.

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