Kitchener-Waterloo

How to avoid ticks this summer in Ontario

Region of Waterloo Public Health says that campers are at higher risk for getting tick bites this summer and have some tips on how to protect yourself.
A tick bite may leave a bull's-eye-shaped rash on the skin. (CBC)

As the days grow longer and families look forward to summer vacation, Region of Waterloo Public Health is reminding residents to talk ticks.

Ticks like to hang out in shady, moist areas on the tips of long grasses and their golden opportunity to find a meal arrives when the grass is disturbed by wind or legs brushing past.

"They actually just basically walk onto people," Kathryn Bromley, infection control specialist at the Region of Waterloo Public Health told CBC.

Although the risk of running into ticks that carry Lyme disease in Waterloo Region is low, Bromley said camping can increase that risk.

Over the years, Lyme disease-carrying black-legged ticks have been found near lakes and provincial parks, which are camper favourites.

"Because you're sort of in the environment that the ticks like, there is the opportunity to definitely pick up ticks when you're out camping," said Bromley.

Even if the campgrounds are dry, the high risk comes from hiking through wooded areas with long grasses, she said.

Bromley gave the following tips for campers:

  • Wear lightly-coloured clothing and long sleeves.
  • Use DEET-type insect repellent, similar to ones used for mosquitoes.
  • Put camping clothes into dryer for an hour when you return.
  • Shower to remove ticks that haven't attached.
  • Search hidden areas like armpits, behind the knee and in the hair for ticks.
Blacklegged ticks are three to five millimetres long. The region's public health unit advises that wearing lightly-coloured clothing will make it easier to spot ticks. (AP Photo/Victoria Arocho, File)

Pluck, not burn

The best way to remove a tick is to grab it with a pair of tweezers as close to the skin as possible, and pull straight up without twisting, said Bromley.

She said it's a misconception that burning ticks off or smothering them with petroleum jelly or nail polish are effective.

She warned that those techniques could stress the tick, causing it to release the saliva that contains the disease-causing bacterium.

The time delay in waiting for the tick to fall off is also not ideal.

"When you see a tick, you want to remove it immediately," said Bromley.

Children campers

Bromley suggested a number of things parents can do for their children who are off to sleep away or day camps:

  • Pack long sleeves and lightly-coloured clothing.
  • Teach children about staying on groomed trails and keeping to sunny areas on short lawns.
  • Pack insect repellent.

Homeowners who live on property backed by wooded areas can also move play areas into a sunny spot where the grass is kept low.

Bull's eye

It can take weeks for Lyme disease symptoms to appear. The first sign is typically a rash that looks like a bull's eye.

Bromley suggested these follow-up strategies after a bite:

  • Check for rashes in the following weeks.
  • Watch out for fevers, chills and extreme fatigue.
  • Save ticks and bring them to your regional public health unit to identify them.

The region's public health has a map of Lyme disease risk areas for anyone considering travelling outside the region. Public health also advises people to seek medical attention immediately if they're worried about an infection. 

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