Tick season appears more aggressive than normal

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Tick season has arrived in Swift Current.

The insects, which are typically active in May and June, were dormant for most of the early summer thanks to an unusually long and cold winter in the province.  Their numbers are returning to normal levels, however, and the Ministry of Health is reminding residents about the importance of keeping an eye on them.

“The message is really do a tick check,” says Phil Curry, and Entomologist and West Nile Virus co-ordinator for the Ministry.  “They’re very easy to remove before they become attached.”

Ticks are known for carry Lyme disease, the symptoms of which include fatigue, chills, headaches and rashes, as well as muscle and joint pain.  Right now the ministry says Lyme disease risk is quite low, but they do want to keep it that way.

“We’ve only had one case of lime disease that has been locally grown ever reported,” says Scott Hartley, Saskatchewan’s insect and vertebrate pest management specialist.   “It’s usually outside of the province, but they (ministry of health) want to get a better idea on if there are potential vectors here in Saskatchewan.”

To be thorough, Curry suggests removing your clothes before a tick check, since they often crawl underneath the outer layers. There are, however, several ways to combat the parasites even before going out. Those methods include avoiding tall grass and brush, wearing bright clothing, and using insect repellent, although Curry says people should make sure ticks are on the label.

Above all else, don’t try to burn them out.

“Trust me, I’ve tried,” Hartley says.  “The way to think about it is, what you’re really doing is scaring it.”

Burning ticks, he says, will cause them to burrow deeper instead of back out. A set of tweezers are much more useful.

“The best way is to get right in there with the snips,” he advises. “Then you’re pinching off there and pulling it out as best you can.”

While the process works well for humans, pets aren’t as easy to manage, which brings everyone back to the good old-fashioned tick check.

“Dogs, for example, are much more likely to pick up a tick because they’re out, they’re rooting through the edges of bush areas, and tall grass,” Curry explains. “Their nose and head is right down where the ticks are, waiting for them, so they’re much more likely to pick up a tick, and then they can bring the tick into the home.”

Tracking the tick population in Saskatchewan is difficult because there are so many variables that come into play.  The numbers are influenced but habitat, life cycle, the length of the season, and how established they are in a certain area.

“The two most common ticks take two or three or even four years to complete their life cycles, so they have to have all the right hosts in place for the larvae… and the adults to get blood, so (it’s a) really, really difficult to answer.”

He does say the populations of Saskatchewan’s two most prominent tick species have expanded, meaning you’re seeing ticks further north than ever before.

Even without the threat of Lyme disease ticks can still be a nuisance, but they’re a nuisance that can be avoided, Curry says, with a little bit of effort and attention.

“The most important thing to do a tick check when you come in later in the evening.  Take your clothes off.  Do a thorough examination.”

Organizations: Ministry of Health

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Swift Current

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