Albertans reporting fewer ticks amid social distancing; Expert predicts numbers will rise

Click to play video: 'Albertans reporting fewer ticks amid social distancing; risk still there' Albertans reporting fewer ticks amid social distancing; risk still there
WATCH ABOVE: Ticks are a common problem in Alberta. While experts say they've seen fewer reported in the province this year, they're also warning that statistic could be because people had been staying in due to COVID-19 risks. Sarah Komadina explains – May 30, 2020

After enjoying a day at Rundle Park in Edmonton, Dan Friesen and Katie Zimmerman didn’t consider the possibility of ticks.

“We never hear about ticks,” Friesen said. “There in the bush, way out in the middle of nowhere, you don’t think they’re going to be in a city park.”

READ MORE: Ticks more than just annoying: bloodsuckers can spread disease, says Winnipeg bug expert

It wasn’t until three days later that Zimmerman asked Friesen to look at her head. She thought she had a skin tag, or a sore that was bothering her.

“I was just sitting there, fiddling with it and just playing with it,” Zimmerman said.

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Friesen called a friend who works in health care who then walked them through how to take the tick off properly. Zimmerman also went to the doctor, who prescribed antibiotics to prevent any illness.

Click to play video: 'Tick talk' Tick talk
Tick talk – May 26, 2020

Daniel Fitzgerald with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry says to remove a tick, you need to pinch the skin as close as possible, have steady pressure and pull it out in one steady motion.

So far this year, about 500 ticks have been sent to the province for evaluation. That number is down by about 100 compared to the same time in previous years.

“With people social distancing and not being out in the city parks and out in trails, we also get lots of ticks off of pets that have returned from travel, and obviously no one is travelling this year, and that could be another reason,” Fitzgerald said.

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CanLyme‘s Janet Sperling has been studying ticks for years. When she first started in the 1980s, it was believed ticks did not exist north of Red Deer.

“There is no question that this problem is increasing. It’s not going away, so we are going to have to learn how to live with these ticks and how to avoid being bitten,” Sperling said.

There are a number of tick species in Alberta, with the most common being the wood tick. It would be very unlikely, that it would carry Lyme disease, but it can carry other bacteria and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, according to Sperling.

READ MORE: More ticks and more Lyme disease in Canada’s future, experts say

Sperling said the deer tick is less common and smaller, and about one in five will carry Lyme disease.

“I would expect probably out of 1,000 of the wood ticks, there would maybe be 100 of the Lyme disease ticks,” she said. “So you have to know the difference because there is a big difference in the wood tick and the [deer tick].”
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Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi that the tick contracts from hosts like deer or rodents. It’s then passed on to humans after a walk in tall grass or a hike in the wilderness.

Sperling said the deer ticks like to be in long, thick grass in moist and shaded areas, whereas the wood tick prefers places that are hot and dry.

“When you know you are going out, you can stay walking along the sidewalk, I’m really not worried at all,” Sperling said.

“If you know you’re going to be out in the bushes, you’re going to wear deet or another one of the insect repellents [and] you want to make sure that you are wearing light-coloured clothing so you can see the tick before it attaches.

“Try to walk with a buddy, like if you’re walking with somebody and you have a tick on your back, your friend can say, ‘Oh, that’s a tick.'”

READ MORE: ‘Every season can be tick season’: National tick awareness month

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If you do get bitten, Sperling said to keep the tick in a baggie, write the date on it and freeze it.

If a tick bite is caught early, within the first few hours or weeks, a course of antibiotics can pretty much eliminate the disease.

“If you get any kind of a rash or any kind of a flu and you just don’t feel right, take the tick to the doctor and say, ‘This is the tick that bit me,'” Sperling said.

If not treated early, Lyme disease can cause severe complications including nerve damage, muscle, nerve, and heart issues.

–With files from Melanie de Klerk, Global News

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