Guess what? It’s spring and ticks are waking up! Since Jenn and I (Mary) have had some encounters with them we thought it would be a good idea to share our experiences.
What are these little creatures? Well they’re small arachnids and they feed on blood. You may have heard that they’re found in forests or grassy areas but I can tell you that I’ve seen one on my husbands shoulder on our porch, in the middle of a subdivision. They hitch rides on deer and birds to move around from place to place. The ticks will then hang out on tall grass or low branches just waiting for you to walk by, latch onto you, crawl up to the nearest warm crevice and dig their head in to feed – without you even feeling it. They become engorged while feasting for a few days and drop off once they’re full. Then they procreate. Yuck.
There are a few different kinds but most common in Ontario are the dog and deer (blacklegged) ticks. The latter are ones that may carry Lyme disease and they’re moving on up from our southern neighbors mainly due to climate change. A tick with Lyme Disease would need to be feeding on you for more than 24 hours to give it to you. Hence why it is important to check yourself (and kids) when you come in from the outdoors. You may have heard that celebs like Avril Lavigne and Justin Bieber have struggled with Chronic Lyme Disease. It’s scary because it is hard to diagnose and it can be severely debilitating.
If you want to learn about the science of ticks, head on over to your favorite Podcast app and look up one of my faves: Ologies with Alie Ward. They have a great one about Acarology from June 2019. She even sells tees that say, “Check your Crevices”. Big Ologies fan.
I am no expert on ticks but in recent years there have been warning signs posted at parks and social media propaganda popping up more often. One thing I’ve learned is that I want to be proactive in making sure I mitigate risks of my family being bitten by one and that it’s time we change our outdoor routine.
We own some forested vacant land in Eastern Ontario and in May 2019, I was raking leaves to make a path. I thought I was being proactive by tying my hair back, tucking my pants into my socks and wearing a light coloured long sleeve shirt. That night, I went to take a shower and noticed a new mole on my stomach. Except it had legs! In my panic, I didn’t think about the tick key I had on my keychain, or the sharp tweezers a foot away. I grabbed that sucker, yanked it out and put it into a container. Surprisingly, it was hard to pull out and it left me with a deep wound. Google told me it was a deer tick and thankfully, it wasn’t engorged. Quickly I called my husband, we both did a full body check and then woke the kids up to check them as well. Luckily that one was the only one we found. Look how small an adult tick is:
The next day, I submitted it to the local municipal office where they do a tick collection and test if it had Lyme Disease. I was told it was indeed a deer tick and it would take around 30 days for results. I visited my family doctor and she told me that since I removed it within 24 hours, she would not prescribe antibiotics and that the likelihood of Lyme disease (if the tick had it) being transmitted was low. I was to keep an eye for a “bullseye rash” and any other flu like symptoms that may appear 3-30 days after the bite. Luckily I was symptom free. Two months later, I got a call from Steve, from public health, confirming the tick tested positive for Lyme disease. My doctor has now said since that area has confirmed Lyme, if I ever get bitten again, I would have to go see her ASAP and she would prescribe the meds to me.
- Cover up if you’re outside hiking, camping or out in the bush! Tuck pants in socks AND shirt in pants. Light coloured clothing will help you see them crawling on you.
- Use Tick Repelling bug spray like Off! containing Deet, or a kid & pet friendly kind like Avon Bug Guard Plus with Icaridin
- Do a full body check once inside focusing on all your crevices: Back of the knee, armpits, waistbands, scalp. The key is to remove them within 24 hours.
- Remove your outdoor clothes and throw them in the dryer for 10 minutes to kill any ticks attached
There’s no need to avoid going outdoors and freak out if we spot one. We just need to add a few more steps to our daily routine when we spend time outside. By having awareness and being vigilant, we will hopefully prevent the worry and trips to the doctor.
Jenn here! I have also had a tick encounter, which has made me a tad bit crazier (yes a little more than my usual level of crazy). It was Mother’s Day weekend 2019, and my kids and I were at an overnight camp for one of their extra curricular activities. We just got in from a camp-fire and were getting into our PJs and I did a quick check for ticks (because I was already paranoid <especially the week after Mary had her incident>). Unfortunately, I came across an embedded tick in my child’s hairline. Another unfortunate thing was that we didn’t have anything to properly remove it, so I tried with the slanted tweezers. Well the tick would not come out! I ended up squeezing it, then ripping its head off — complete failure and mom guilt at its highest.
Next step, I drove to the emergency room to get help removing it. I’m not sure if that was the best step, but for me, to help calm my concerns, it was the best place to go. The doctor had to try three different ways to remove the head, ending up sort of cutting it out (now leaving a scar). She then gave us a prescription for a double dose of antibiotics (which later added to the worry because it is antibiotics for children 8+, and my child is much younger).
The tick was sent off for testing, and more than two months later, I received the results that it was negative. We can’t live in fear, but man, it is scary. I talked with some friends in the USA, and they thought I was quite funny. I suppose ticks are just a way of life for them and not worrisome. They just make sure they check the main areas each day and move on with their lives. I suppose that since ticks are new to my area, we haven’t become used to the daily checks or removals. This is new to us, and we will learn to live with them, but it is going to take some time. Here are a couple more ideas to add to Mary’s suggestions.
- Shower each night so you can do a thorough check and you’re not just sitting around in your clothes that you wore outside.
- Don’t change your outside clothes in your bedrooms, if a tick falls off your clothes, it will find its way back to you during the night (I am not paranoid at all).
- Make sure you have the tools necessary for removal when you are camping, hiking, or away from your home. I bought this highly recommended tick remover card from MEC. Fortunately I have yet to use it. https://www.mec.ca/en/product/5050-423/Tick-Remover-Card
Do you have any tips or stories about ticks? Leave us a comment below!