Think winter means no more ticks? Think again
A hunter in the Maritimes was recently walking outside when, unbeknownst to him, he stumbled upon a tick nest. Despite the winter weather, the ticks were alive – and hungry.
“He described having hundreds of ticks on him,” said Dr. Vett Lloyd, who studies ticks at a lab in Sackville, N.B.
Contrary to popular belief, ticks don’t die en masse when the temperature drops. According to Lloyd, Canadians should consider the pest a year-round concern and continue to exercise caution while outdoors.
“The moment we have a warm day, if there’s a little bit of sun on the snow, it melts. The ticks are there, and they’re hungry and ready to go. All you need to do or your dog needs to do is walk by there. You can get a tick,” she said.
In her research, Lloyd invites anyone in New Brunswick bitten by a tick to send the tiny vermin to her in small plastic bags. (The ticks must be dead first.) She then tests the insects for borrelia, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, and also identifies the tick’s species.
About 20 per cent of all ticks she receives test positive for Lyme disease, which can cause neurological disorders and facial paralysis, among other symptoms, if left untreated. The highest number of Lyme-positive ticks come to the lab from Nova Scotia and southern New Brunswick, where the prevalence can be as high as 30 per cent.
Lloyd says that ticks found in colder months tend to be better fed because most people don’t check themselves or their pets as often as they might in the summer.
If a tick is well fed, Lloyd says, it could pose serious health concerns.
“That’s a problem because it takes a tick a certain amount of time to pass on the disease. So if it’s fed for several days on you, (you have) a much higher chance of getting a disease from it,” she said.
As the holidays approach and more Canadians may be outside enjoying the weather, Lloyd recommends using flea and tick repellant.