Uptick in Alberta ticks: What to know about the season

Tick season is here, and while the word makes most people’s skin crawl, there’s a growing list of complications associated with them.

By Shilpa Downton and Alejandro Melgar

Tick season is here, and while the word makes most people’s skin crawl, there’s a growing list of complications associated with them.

The Government of Alberta notes that ticks are most active in the spring and summer, particularly in temperatures above 4 C.

The province says Lyme disease can affect humans, wildlife, and domestic animals. It can cause an infection and, if left untreated, “can cause serious, long-term complications and disability.”

Symptoms can develop between three to 30 days after a bite, with the earliest symptoms that include detecting a “bulls-eye-like rash” and flu-like symptoms, like tiredness, headaches, sore muscles and joints and fever.

And while officials note the risk of getting Lyme disease is low, it’s important to be prudent about the disease.

According to Dr. Rebecca Risk, who specializes in analyzing and treating hard-to-detect diseases with Ananta Health, there’s more to it than contracting Lyme disease.

“The ticks in their life, they have three bites, so they can bite an animal that has an infection, and then they’re just carriers,” she told CityNews.

“Then, if they bite you, they would share that infection, and they’re also born with the infection that their parents have.”

So, with multiple species all carrying different bacteria, it’s not just Lyme disease that’s a concern.

“We’re seeing it’s more complicated and more complex than just Lyme as the years go on,” Risk said.

Other diseases found on ticks

Here in Alberta, the Rocky Mountain Wood tick is the most common.

Shaun Dergousoff, a research scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, says those ticks are generally found in the southern part of the province.

“Now, it’s quite common — even on these drier areas of grasslands, shrubby areas, and so we see it quite commonly on people, on our dogs, especially when you go off of pathways and the grassy, shrubby areas,” he explained.

They carry the harmful bacteria causing Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), with symptoms forming within 3-14 days.

RMSF is potentially fatal and can cause moderate to severe illness. Symptoms include fever, malaise, headache, anorexia, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, photophobia, diarrhea, and neck stiffness.

Powassan virus, tularemia, and babesiosis are also found in ticks.

There is no specific treatment for Powassan virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Although, anaplasmosis and babesiosis can be treated with antibiotics for symptomatic cases where patients may experience fever, muscle aches and pains, and headaches.

Doctors say those ticks can survive our winters and “stay and breed over their two-year lifecycle.”

In addition, other tick-borne diseases include anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, or southern tick-associated rash-illness (STARI).

Read More: Ontario doctors now watching three new tick-borne illnesses

If you find a tick on you, your child, or your furry friend, it’s best to remove it carefully with tweezers and get it tested within 24 hours.

The province says Lyme disease is diagnosed based on the presence of “symptoms, physical examination, possible exposure to infected ticks and, if necessary, laboratory testing.”

It adds if a healthcare provider suspects Lyme disease, you might have to provide a blood sample for testing.

Experts say Lyme disease remains the most prevalent tick-transmitted illness across the country, with at least 2,100 reported cases last year, according to Health Canada.

In Alberta, there have been 149 human cases reported to the Alberta Ministry of Health.

You can also submit a photo of the tick to the Alberta Submit-a-Tick program via the eTick program.

The program monitors the types of ticks in Alberta and assesses the risk of acquiring Lyme disease within Alberta.

If one gets bitten by a tick and is worried about their health, the Alberta government asks those to contact Health Link at 811.

More information on Lyme disease in Alberta, ticks, and submitting photos of them can be found online.

-With files from Michelle Mackey

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