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Alberta ticks flourish in warm weather as researchers urge checks and tests

Ticks are thriving in Alberta's recent warm weather, prompting researchers to urge people to submit the bugs for testing.

Insects may carry bacteria that causes Lyme disease

Deer ticks, shown here through glass in a 2017 file photo, are collected by the Alberta government and tested for Lyme Disease. (Ben Garver/The Berkshire Eagle via The Associated Press)

Ticks are thriving in Alberta's recent warm weather, prompting researchers to urge people to submit any of the bugs they find for testing.

Ticks can transmit bacteria that causes Lyme disease, which can lead to long-term, serious complications and disabilities. So the government collects submitted black-legged ticks, or deer ticks, found on people or pets, in order to monitor the risk of Lyme disease in the province.

Only about one to two per cent of the insects gathered last season carried the bacteria, borrelia burgdorferi, which is what causes Lyme disease in humans, according to Daniel Fitzgerald, a parasitology technologist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.

As the summer season approaches, he's urging Albertans to stay on the lookout for the insects and submit any they find.

"The good thing about ticks is it takes them a while to pass on anything to us when they're feeding," said Fitzgerald, who helps with the tick tests.

"So you do have a chance when you're outside, you know, in the long grass or in the bush, to check yourself and check your pets."

To remove the ticks, which latch into the skin, the government suggests the following technique:

  • Gently grasp the tick's head and mouth, as close to the skin as possible. Using tweezers is preferred.
  • Pull the tick right off the skin straight up. Go slowly and don't squeeze or twist it.
  • After it's off, wash the bite with soap and water. Use an antiseptic to disinfect it. Wash your hands.

"You do have a little bit of a window to get them off before they cause you any real harm," Fitzgerald said.

To submit a tick for testing, put it in a clean, empty container without any ventilation holes. Add a cotton ball or tissue and lightly wet it. Put that in the container to prevent the tick from drying.

The ticks should be placed in a clean, empty container without holes. Add a moist cotton ball or tissue to prevent the dead insect from drying out. (CBC)

You can add more than one tick if multiples were found on the same person or pet. Tick samples can be dropped of at a variety of locations listed online.

Symptoms of a tick-borne illness include headache, rash, fever, flu-like symptoms and joint pain. Anyone with those symptoms should see a family practitioner.

Alberta Health Services says most tick bites do not cause serious health problems.

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