Ticks aren't just a problem for summer anymore: Experts

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Winter might be just around the corner, but a leading expert says the risk of ticks and tick bites are far from being over.

Although typically associated with spring and summer, Dr. Vett Lloyd, one of Canada’s most prominent tick experts says the insects are still being found on humans and animals.

“Most people expect that when it’s cold, ticks go away, but they don’t,” Lloyd told CTV News. “The moment we have a warm day, there’s a little bit of sun on the snow, [it] melts and they’re hungry and they’re ready to go, all you need to do or your dog needs to do is walk by there and there and you can get a tick.”

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Lloyd studies samples of ticks sent to her from areas of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

According to Lloyd, a man recently found himself covered in ticks while out hunting.

“He described having hundreds of ticks on him, he scraped a few off his clothes and sure enough, they are ticks,” she said. “They are just little baby ticks and he had walked through a nest and you can see exactly how tiny these are.”

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Lloyd’s research suggests that because people don’t check themselves or their pets for ticks during this time of year, they are often “better fed.”

“That’s a problem because it takes the ticks a certain amount of time to pass on the disease, so if it’s fed for several days on you, there’s a much higher chance of getting a disease from it,” Lloyd said.

Lloyd suggests wearing tick or flea repellant to keep them at bay and revealed that on average, 20 per cent of the ticks sent to her lab test positive for Lyme disease. She also noted that ticks from other areas, such as southern New Brunswick test as high as 30 per cent.

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What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is an infection caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, spread through bites from an infected tick.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ticks can attach themselves to any part of the body but are often found in the groin, armpits and scalp and must typically be attached to the body for 36 to 48 hours before Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted.

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Symptoms of Lyme disease

Lyme disease symptoms can often be mistaken for the flu. Within the first three to 30 days after a tick bite, a person can experience fever, chills, headache, swollen lymph nodes, muscle aches and fatigue.

A rash (Erythema migrans) at the site of the tick bite can occur in about 70 to 80 per cent of infections, on average a week after infection. The rash can grow up to 12 inches in size and may feel warm or hot to the touch.

Days to months after infection, symptoms can progress to include a severe headache, neck stiffness, additional rashes may develop on other areas of the body.

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Facial palsy, arthritis, nerve pain, dizziness, heart palpitations, shooting pains or tingling in the hands or feet as well as problem with short-term memory.

What to do if you’ve been bitten by a tick

If you’ve been bitten by a tick, the Mayo Clinic suggests removing the tick with fine-tipped tweezers, and seal the tick in a container and keep in the freezer. If you develop symptoms within a few days, bring the tick with you to your doctor.

Wash your hands and the bite site with warm water, soap or rubbing alcohol.

Contact your doctor if you are unable to remove the tick as soon as possible, if a rash appears and gets bigger or the bite site gets infected.

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