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Tick Talk

Welcome back to Ask a Naturalist: your own personal “Google” for information on all things natural on PEI!

I’ve had multiple people ask today’s question, and it’s the perfect time of year to answer it: do we need to be worried about ticks on PEI?

Image Source: US Federal Government Centre for Disease Control

I don’t think we should worry, but we do need to be aware of ticks and take appropriate precautions. Growing up on PEI in the 1970s and 80s, I didn’t hear much about ticks and never gave them a thought. Even into the 1990s, Islanders would proudly tell tourists that PEI was free of the Blacklegged Tick (aka Deer Tick, Ixodes scaplularis) known to carry Lyme disease, although the first such tick was actually confirmed here in 1989. PEI was the first place in Atlantic Canada to have the bacterium responsible for Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi) confirmed, from a Black-legged Tick on a cat in Charlottetown in 1991.

That said, PEI is considered a low-risk area for Lyme disease. But ‘low’ is not the same as ‘no’, and everyone should be aware of ticks, how to avoid them, and what to do if you find one on you or your pet.

Black-legged Ticks are most common in areas with long grass or shrubs and are usually found within 60 centimetres (24 inches) of the ground. That doesn’t mean you’ll never find them in any other habitats, but extra care should be taken in these areas. Best practices when in tick habitat include:

  • Wearing a long-sleeved shirt, pants, and closed-toed shoes with socks. Tuck your pants into your socks. Light-coloured clothes make ticks easier to spot, but there has been some research to show ticks are more attracted to light colours than dark.

  • Wearing an insect repellant that contains DEET, Icaridin (also known as Picaridin), or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (also known as OLE; note that this is NOT the same as Eucalyptus oil).

  • Investing in Permethrin-treated clothing. Permethrin is an insecticide used to treat outdoor gear and doesn’t wash out in the laundry.

  • Getting into the habit of doing a full body “tick check” when you come in from tick habitat. Pay special attention to warm, dark places such as the backs of your knees, your groin, belly button, arm pits, ears, and hair. Remember, ticks can be tiny (see photo)! Personally, I hop into the shower as soon as I come in and toss my clothes in the dryer on high for 10 minutes.

If you do find a tick attached to you (or your pet), don’t resort to old wives’ tales such as burning it or covering it with petroleum jelly. This can make the tick release its stomach contents into the bite, thus increasing your chance of infection. Instead, get a pair of tweezers, grab the tick as close to its head as possible, and gently pull it straight out without squeezing it. (You can buy commercial tick removal tools to help with this). Once it’s out, wash the area well or put some alcohol-based hand sanitizer on it.

You can use the free site to upload photos of your tick and get it identified by an expert. If it is confirmed as a Blacklegged Tick (or if you don’t know for sure what species it is) monitor yourself for fever, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, or a bulls-eye shaped rash. If any of those symptoms appear, seek medical attention. And one last tip for your outdoor pets: be sure they’re on veterinarian-approved flea and tick prevention. My Boys get NexGard once a month.

Nothing in life is risk-free, and the presence of ticks shouldn’t deter you from enjoying the outdoors. Just be aware and take appropriate precautions.

If you have a question about PEI’s wild side, it’s likely others do too! So, follow me here or on Facebook, join the conversation, and Ask a Naturalist about PEI untamed!

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