Tick bites and Lyme disease: what to look out for

Noah Bergstrom / March 27, 2019

Many people associate ticks with lyme disease, the tick borne infection can cause complications with human nervous systems
(Aiya Benaso / BCIT News)

The passing of winter brings back patio drinks and spring flowers, but without freezing temperatures blood-sucking ticks could take a bite out of your next nature walk.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control warns that this time of year brings the bug to vegetation, to pets, and onto our skin.

After any outdoor expedition it is always good to check yourself for ticks. Without immediate attention, the bug will feed on its host for several days. Ticks can’t fly, but instead will cling to their targets and they’ll use you brushing against a bush to make a move. Once they are aboard you or your dog, a tick will search for thin skin in a sheltered spot on your body. Many times victims won’t realize what happened until fever symptoms and a severe rash sets in. In animals a pet will often start to limp if they’ve been bitten.

Various viruses can be transmitted through ticks. Because of this, timely treatment of a bite can be crucial. Lyme disease is North America’s most common tick-borne virus and is typically found in Black-legged ticks: a species that can be found in B.C.

Dr. Elani Galanis, a pysician and epidemiologist with the BCCDC says getting the bug out whole is important.

“If a tick is attached to you use tweezers and grab onto the head of the tick, as close as possible to the skin and pull it up in one motion- straight up from the skin. Try not to to squeeze the belly which is where bacterias are stored.”

According to the Centre for Disease Control site, it takes a tick time to transmit Lyme disease, and if you are quick to remove the entire bug you could curb infection.

This diagram shows the life cycle of blacklegged ticks, they can transmit anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and Lyme disease.

Treatment for Lyme disease uses antibiotics in early stages, but the symptoms become more severe in cases of disseminated Lyme. If the disease goes untreated advanced stages will bring arthritis, sleep disturbance and severe fatigue.

This mature form of Lyme leaves 10 percent of people with post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, which is currently considered untreatable.

Kelly Eddy, a longtime Lyme disease patient, remembers she was 8 years old when what felt like a summer flu put her in the hospital.

“It was like a light switch, I was a really capable student… and then like overnight my brain power, I just totally lost it and it hasn’t been the same since.”

Eddy sometimes worries what her life would be like without her support network, saying she wouldn’t be able to deal with the foggy thinking and indecision if it weren’t for her family.

“I’ve missed out on so many things, nobody sees what goes on behind closed doors…its those things that affect your family and the ones who don’t even have the disease that are the hardest. It’s kind of like an invisible illness”

Eddy says she has leaned on holistic medicine, marijuana concentrates, and energy stimulants to improve her mood. The fatigue that follows affected individuals can be debilitating, but Eddy says doctors can’t prescribe medication to keep the disease at bay, because none currently exists.

For more information and resources on ticks in British Columbia, visit the government website here.

With files from Aiya Benaso.