Saturday, 9 May 2015

Tick Talk

Wood Ticks

How introduce ticks to visitors without creating mortal fear? Everything our visitors knew, or thought they knew, about ticks was really terrible – rocky mountain spotted disease, lyme disease, they crawl under your skin and get to your liver, unusual and special techniques are required to remove them or you can’t even remove them and the bites get infected.

Neither rocky mountain spotted disease or lyme disease is carried by Saskatchewan ticks – yet. Climate change may alter the spectrum of types of ticks and disease that they carry.

Eliminate such bizarre stories as migrating under the skin, heads breaking off under the skin and serious infections. The head of a tick is actually quite difficult to remove. In the thousands of ticks that we’ve removed in our house, the head has never been left behind. Sometimes a small scab could be mistaken for a head.

The tick latches onto skin and injects a slightly anaesthetic blood thinner. It then proceeds to suck blood through two small puncture wounds in the skin, its abdomen swelling with the blood. If it is not noticed, it can swell to the size of a bloated raisin. It looks utterly gross.

Most ticks are found on people before they become attached. In tick season it is recommended to have a nightly “tick check” in front of a mirror or with a friend. Ticks seem to survey the territory before settling on a site so usually picking it tick off is all that is needed. If it is attached to skin, the most effective method is to simply use thumb and forefinger like a pincer and pull it off – usually with a small quick jerk. It is extremely rare for the head to break off but when you run water and/or antiseptic over the bite, you can look closely at it*. This method works even with bloated ticks.

Bites rarely get infected. The itchiness of the bite might cause scratching and introduce germs so cover it or use calamine or benadryl on it so that you avoid scratching. Depending upon the sensitivity a person has to the tick blood thinner (the stuff injected by the tick), the swelling can be quite extensive. If there are red streaks extending from the bite, you have a fever or the swelling continues to spread beyond a few centimetres, see a trusted health care worker.

If the idea of picking a tick up between thumb and forefinger turns your stomach, you might like to try something more complicated. Eyebrow tweezers are awkward but can be used. Applications of vaseline, oil, vinegar, salt, or rubbing alcohol might be put onto the tick and after a period of waiting (five or ten minutes), with a tissue between your fingers and the tick, it is dislodged more readily. Don’t use cigarettes or matches or anything that might injure the victim.

Prevention involves pulling socks high over the bottoms of pant legs, cuffs on shirts and head gear that protects the hair and neck (a good place for hejab) would be useful. Insecticidal spray is not 100% effective. Of course, staying indoors prevents tick accumulation almost entirely – but it makes for a boring life. Prevention is helpful in tick season but still don’t forego the “tick check”. Ticks are annoying but rarely life-threatening.

*Since I have never been required to remove anything left behind, my advice would be to either use a sterile needle to pick it out as you would a sliver or leave it in place, disinfect and cover – the body will usually make a pustule around organic material and then you squeeze it out.