British Columbia

'Tis the season for ticks in southern B.C.

Vancouver man warns others after being bitten in the city while experts say risk is still low.

Vancouver man warns others after being bitten in the city, while experts say risk is still low

Steve Kelen holds his dog, Connor, who was the likely culprit in giving his owner a tick bite. (Lien Yeung/CBC)

A Vancouver man is reminding others about the risk of ticks in the city after he was bitten over the weekend. However, experts say the dangers are still considered low in B.C., particularly in urban areas.

Steve Kelen discovered the bite on Saturday night as he was heading to bed.

Initially, he thought it was a new mole until he looked in the mirror and had his wife double check.

The pair determined it was indeed a tick burrowed in the side of his torso.

Using a so-called tick key, she gripped it by the body and slid the tiny blood sucker out.

"There it was, wiggling its little legs," recalled Kelen, who is married to a CBC employee. "I was so surprised, I didn't think we had ticks in Vancouver."

Steer clear of forested areas

Ticks can be found anywhere in southern B.C. and this is the season to watch for them, according to Dr. Eleni Galanis with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

However, she says you're unlikely to find them in urban areas because ticks live on long grasses, bushes and trees.

Higher risk areas would be the backcountry or dense parks.

"The best way is to stay clear of bushy, forested areas — meaning if you're going to go hiking or when you go to the woods stay on cleared paths," she said.

Even after the tick was removed from Kelen's torso, it left a mark. Doctors say to monitor for signs of a rash that spreads beyond five centimetres. (Paisley Woodward/CBC)

She also suggests wearing long-sleeved clothes to cover any exposed skin or to use an insecticide containing DEET.

Once you come home, strip down to check to make sure you don't have any bites and then take a quick shower to ensure any tick that was loosely attached gets washed away.

If you do get bitten by a tick, use tweezers to pull the insect straight out. If it's burrowed too deep into the skin, doctors can help remove it.

She says to monitor the bite in the week after. If it swells beyond about five centimetres or you feel sick with a fever, fatigue or aches, it's time to see your doctor.

Ticks and Lyme disease

The fear with ticks is they can carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. 

But Galanis says only one of approximately 200 ticks in B.C. are disease-carriers so the risk is low.

A picture taken at the French National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRA) in Maison-Alfort, on July 20, 2016 shows ticks, whose bite can transmit Lyme disease. (Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images)

Furthermore, B.C. is not considered a high infestation area unlike the increasingly concerning numbers on the East Coast of North America, which Galanis attributes to climate change.

If you have been bitten by an infected tick, the Mayo Clinic says the longer it remains attached to your skin, the greater the risk of getting the disease. Lyme infection is unlikely if the tick is attached for less than 36 to 48 hours. Treatment is more effective if begun early.

Symptoms include a large rash up to 30 centimetres across. Fevers, chills, fatigue, body aches, headache, neck stiffness and swollen lymph nodes can accompany the rash.

Kelen says he's not sure how he was exposed to the small insect but he is a dog owner.

Galanis says pets are more likely to be bitten because they tend to go off-trails and into low bushes where ticks more likely reside.

If Kelen touched his dog with exposed skin after a tick loosely attached to the animal, the bug may have bitten him then.

About the Author

Lien Yeung

@LienYeung

Lien Yeung hosts CBC Vancouver News Weekends. As a multimedia reporter, she has covered stories locally and nationally from coast to coast on television, radio and social media. You can reach her on Twitter @LienYeung or via email at lien.yeung@cbc.ca.

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