TICK Talk: Expert advice to avoid and remove ticks

This article appeared in the May 2022 issue of The Link. To receive Oak Valley Health’s community newsletter, subscribe now.

Ticks are little mites that can be as large as a pencil eraser or as small as a pin’s head. They live by feeding off blood and can be found clinging to tall grass or shrubs in moist, shady areas. Ticks can be found across Ontario and although not all carry diseases, some can transmit Lyme disease when someone is bitten by an infected tick, commonly known as a deer tick.

“Lyme disease is caused by four main species of bacteria and you are more likely to get it if you spend time outdoors in tall grassy areas and don’t take proper precautions,” says Lisa Bradshaw, a nurse in the Emergency Department at Oak Valley Health’s Markham Stouffville Hospital. “Some common symptoms of Lyme disease include a rash that can appear three to 30 days after the bite, typically where you were bitten, but it can also appear on other parts of your body. You may also experience cold symptoms such as a fever, body aches, fatigue, neck stiffness and swollen lymph nodes.”

How to avoid tick bites?

Lisa says that there are some easy tips to you can follow before going outdoors to grassy areas:

Clothing: Wear a hat, long sleeve shirt with pants tucked into your shoes. Light coloured clothing will help see the dark ticks if they are on you. This will not only protect you from ticks, but from the sun as well.

Repellent: Spray repellent all over your clothes and skin and remember to reapply often. Try to stay on a trail rather than in tall grass.

Check for ticks: Before going into your home, you should check for ticks on your clothing and on your body. Make sure you check your scalp and hair, around your ears, around your waist and the back of your knees. You should also check your pet’s hair/fur if you've taken them for walks as well. We’ve seen a case where a dog had a tick attached and it ended up on the owner.

Shower: After you’ve done a good check, taking a shower will help unattached any tick you may have missed and another opportunity to do a full body scan.

What to do if you find a tick?

Lisa recommends that if you find a tick attached to your skin, you should remove it with tweezers, as close to the skin as possible and pull backwards. Remember to do so firmly and pull backwards to ensure it comes out smoothly. Do not squeeze or crush it since its bodily fluids could contain bacteria.

Once you have removed the tick, wash your hands and your skin thoroughly with soap and water. It’s still a good idea to monitor the bite over the next few days to make sure you don’t get a rash or fever.

If you are not able to remove the tick safely, visit your family doctor or your nearest Emergency Department promptly.

“The best way to avoid being bitten by a tick is to take precautions before going to grassy, wooded areas,” says Lisa. “If you have any concerns, you should contact a medical professional.”

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