With the onset of spring, as the snow melts and plants and trees regenerate, so do populations of several insects, including wood ticks.
These blood feeding parasites are most commonly found in tall grasses and shrubs, where they attach themselves to passing mammals such as deer, elk, bighorn sheep, and even dogs.
They become more active during the warmer months when the days are longer, and are especially common in areas with frequently used deer or human trails, near water and in dense meadows.
“Around spring time, before things start to green up is when people tend to pick ticks up,” said Blairmore Fish and Wildlife Officer John Clarke.
Wood ticks have become more abundant this spring, as a result of several deer and moose coming into town and bringing the ticks in.
Larval and nymph ticks live on small animals such as rodents and rabbits, before moving on to larger mammals in adulthood.
While bothersome and irritating, the parasites do not pose a significant health risk to humans or animals, although rare cases of deer paralysis resulting from wood ticks have been reported, but such cases are extremely rare in Alberta.
In rare cases, the ticks have been known to transmit infectious diseases such as lyme disease, tularaemia, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, but again, such cases are rare in Alberta.
Such cases are much more common among deer ticks, Western Black Legged ticks, and Lone Star ticks, according to Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (SRD).
Frequent grooming and chemical application can help to prevent the spread of wood ticks on dogs.
In order to prevent becoming a host to these parasites, wear long sleeves, pants, and closed shoes while out in the bush, and check dogs for ticks at the end of the day.
One of the most important ways to reduce the risk of tick illnesses is to do a skin check on yourself, your children, and your pets after being outdoors. Other precautions include:
• Walking on cleared trails when in tall grass or wooded areas.
• Wearing a hat, long sleeves, pants, and light-coloured clothing.
• Tucking pant legs into socks or boots.
• Applying insect repellent containing DEET on uncovered skin.
• Carefully checking clothing and scalp (covered or not) when leaving an area where ticks may live.
To reduce ticks from entering your home and yard, try these steps:
• Keep your lawn short and remove any fallen leaves and weeds.
• Keep a buffer area such as wood-chip or gravel border between your lawn and wooded areas or stone walls. Any play equipment or play zones should be kept away from wooded areas.
• Trim tree branches to allow more sunlight in your yard.
• Keep wood piles and bird feeders away from the house.
• Widen and maintain trails on your property.
If you find a tick on yourself, a family member, or pet, wear gloves and gently remove it. Be careful not to crush the tick as this could cause it to inject its stomach contents into your skin. If you find a tick, check very carefully for others. Other tips to remove ticks safely include:
• Use needle-nose tweezers to gently grasp the tick close to the skin.
• Without squeezing, pull the tick straight out.
• After removal, clean the area with soap and water.
If you have concerns or need assistance removing a tick, please contact your family doctor or visit a walk-in medical clinic.