A black-legged tick
Photo by Wikimedia Commons: Scott Bauer

Tick season is here—time to get prepped!

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It’s spring, which means it’s time for all of us to rub our eyes, leave our winter nests, and step out into the sun. Unfortunately, “all of us” includes ticks—carriers of Lyme disease and lovers of human (and animal) blood.

A mild winter is likely to lead to large tick population this summer, so people who plan to spend lots of time outside need to be vigilant. Black-legged ticks (also known as deer ticks) are usually the first to emerge after the snow melts, and they’re known carriers of Lyme disease, as well as other serious illnesses including anaplasmosis and babesiosis. Lyme disease can lead to arthritis, neurological problems, and, rarely, death.

“We are seeing a general increase in human cases [of Lyme disease] across the province,” Dr. Curtis Russell of Public Health Ontario told the Whig.

Ticks pick up borrelia bacteria, which causes Lyme disease, from mice, and it can then be transferred to humans or other animals, including pets. Not everyone who is bitten by a tick gets the disease, but it is important to check your pets and yourself regularly so any ticks can be removed as soon as possible.

So how do you identify black-legged ticks? Firstly, they’re smaller than wood ticks, usually about 3 to 5 mm long—about the size of a sesame seed—and they don’t have the white markings on their backs that wood ticks have. They’re brown, though they become larger and redder after feeding on blood.

To avoid ticks, keep yourself covered up, especially in rural areas, and wear insect repellent. To keep your yard free of ticks, clear away brush and woodpiles where ticks might like to hang out. If you are bitten, remove the tick with tweezers (they tend to hang on after they’ve bitten you), apply antiseptic, and call your doctor if you develop symptoms of fever, rash, headache, or swollen lymph nodes. Just make sure you get the head of the tick and not just the body.