Table of contents

Overview

Photo of a small tick on a cotton swab

Ticks are small spider-like animals (arachnids) that bite to fasten themselves onto the skin and feed on blood.

Ticks are most active during the spring, summer and fall seasons and can be active when the temperatures are above 4 degrees Celsius.

In addition to ticks that live in Alberta year-round, migrating birds bring ticks from warmer areas into Alberta during the spring.

Alberta is home to many species of ticks. Most tick species in Alberta do not carry Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that can cause Lyme disease in people. However, there is evidence that tick species capable of carrying the bacteria are expanding their range in Canada.

Visit Health Canada for more information on risk areas for Lyme disease in Canada.

Protect yourself from ticks

While most ticks do not cause serious health problems, it is important to protect yourself, your family and even your pets from tick bites. It is also important to remove attached ticks immediately in order to avoid potential infection or diseases that can be transmitted from the bite. Some tips to prevent tick bites include:

  • Walk on cleared trails whenever possible and avoid walking in tall grassy or wooded areas.
  • Wear light-coloured clothing and cover up as much skin as possible. For example, a hat, long-sleeved shirt and long pants with the legs tucked into socks or boots.
  • Use a bug spray that contains the chemical DEET or Icaridin to repel ticks and reapply as frequently as directed.
  • Check yourself for ticks after leaving a grassy or wooded area where ticks may live.
  • Check your pets for ticks after they have been outside. You cannot get Lyme disease from your pet, but your pet can bring infected ticks inside. These ticks can fall off your pet and attach themselves to you.

How to remove a tick safely

Photo of how to remove a tick safely

Although the risk of Lyme disease is very low in Alberta, there are other tick-borne diseases that can be transmitted by ticks.

It is important to properly remove a tick as soon as possible. Removing a tick 24 to 36 hours after a tick bite usually prevents Lyme disease from developing.

If a tick is attached to your skin, you can safely remove it.

  • Using tweezers, gently grasp its head and mouth parts as close to your skin as possible to avoid leaving mouthparts in the skin or crushing the tick.
  • Without squeezing the tick, slowly pull the tick straight up off the skin – do not jerk or twist it.
  • Do not apply matches, cigarettes, dish soap, petroleum jelly or any other substance to the tick. This will not encourage the tick to detach and may cause it to release infectious blood back into the wound.
  • Once the tick has been removed, clean the bite area with soap and water and disinfect the area with an antiseptic. Wash hands with soap and water.
  • Consider submitting a photograph of the tick to the Submit-a-Tick program.
  • If you do not plan to submit a photograph of the tick to the Submit-a-Tick program, you can kill the tick by placing it in a freezer for 24 hours, or putting it in rubbing alcohol. Once killed, dispose of it by flushing it down the toilet, or placing it in the garbage. Avoid crushing a tick with your fingers as they may be filled with blood and other infectious material.

When to seek medical attention

Visit your health-care provider for assistance in removing a deeply embedded tick as soon as possible if:

  • you are not comfortable with removing a tick
  • you cannot safely remove the whole tick

If you develop a rash, fever or flu-like symptoms within 30 days of a known tick exposure, talk to your health-care provider about your recent tick bite, when it occurred and where you likely acquired the tick. A health-care provider does not require a tick in order to make diagnoses. However, if the tick is available, it may be submitted for further testing at the request of your health-care provider.

Tick-borne diseases

Lyme disease

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 usually develop between 3 to 30 days after a person is infected from a tick bite. Symptoms of early Lyme disease infection include:

  • a round, red rash that spreads at the site of a tick bite, known as a 'bull’s eye rash'
  • flu-like symptoms: tiredness, headaches, sore muscles and joints and fever

Lyme disease can be resolved successfully with identification in the early stages of the disease and with antibiotic treatment. It is important to emphasize that the risk of getting Lyme disease from a tick bite in Alberta is considered very low.

Between 1991 and 2020, there were 132 humans cases of Lyme disease reported to Alberta Health. All were reported as having been acquired while travelling outside of the province in areas where the bacteria causing Lyme disease and the ticks that carry it are known to circulate.

Lyme disease diagnosis and laboratory testing

Lyme disease is diagnosed based on the presence of symptoms, a physical exam, the possibility of exposure to infected ticks and, if necessary, laboratory testing. If your health care provider suspects Lyme disease, you may be asked to provide a blood sample for testing.

Public health and laboratory experts in Canada, the United States and worldwide support the 2-step testing used in Alberta as the best laboratory method for supporting the diagnosis of Lyme disease. These high standards help protect individuals from misleading false-positive (inaccurate) results and unnecessary treatments.

In Alberta, laboratory testing for the first step is done by the Provincial Laboratory for Public Health. The second verification step is done by the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg to reduce the chances of false-positive results.

The Alberta government advises against the use of laboratory testing offered by some private laboratories outside of Canada. Some of these laboratories use non-standardized testing methods. These methods may report a higher number of false-positive results.

False positives can result in misdiagnosis that can lead to a delay in finding the actual cause of an individual’s illness, as well as unnecessary, expensive and sometimes harmful treatments.

A 2014 study found that one alternate United States laboratory had incorrectly diagnosed Lyme disease in up to 57% of healthy people who did not have Lyme disease.

  • *Fallon, B. A. Pavlicova, M. Coffino, S. W., & Brenner, C. (2014). A comparison of Lyme disease serologic test results from 4 laboratories in patients with persistent symptoms after antibiotic treatment. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 59(12),1705-10. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciu703

Learn more about Lyme disease on the MyHealthAlberta website.

Other tick-borne diseases

Other ticks in Alberta can carry organisms that may cause diseases in humans such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever (transmitted by Dermacentor andersoni and Dermacentor variabilis), Powassan virus (transmitted by Ixodes cookie and Ixodes scapularis) and tularemia (transmitted by Dermacentor variabilis). The number of cases of these diseases reported to Alberta Health each year varies from 0 to 3 cases, mainly acquired locally.

Like Lyme disease, there is a low risk that other tick-borne diseases, such as anaplasmosis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis or southern tick-associated rash-illness (STARI), may occur in Alberta.

Submit-a-Tick program

Photo of Submit-a-tick program

If you find a tick on a person, a pet or anywhere outside, consider submitting a photograph of it to the Alberta Submit-a-Tick program.

Program purpose

Submit-a-Tick is a surveillance program which helps to monitor the types and distribution of ticks in Alberta, and to assess the risk of acquiring Lyme disease within Alberta.

  • This program does not test for Lyme disease or other tick related illnesses in humans or pets. The results are used to help assess the risk of acquiring Lyme disease in Alberta.
  • If you are concerned about a tick bite, see your health-care provider.
  • If you are concerned about a tick bite to your pet, consult with your veterinarian.

Submit a tick photo for identification

You can submit photographs of ticks for rapid photo identification through the eTick website or using the eTick app.

How to submit a tick photo to eTick:

  • Take a photograph of the tick using your smart phone or digital camera. Instructions on how to take a good photo for species identification are provided in the eTick photographic guide.
  • If you are not using the eTick app, submit your photo on the eTick website.
  • After submitting your photo, keep your tick specimen for at least 5 days in case additional photos are needed to complete the identification.
  • Save the tick in a clean, empty and secure container. Do not add any ventilation holes to the container. Add a small piece of tissue or cotton ball, lightly moistened with water, into the container to prevent the tick from drying out. Ticks can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Submitted photographs will be used to identify the tick species and you will get the results typically within 24 hours. Once you receive your results, the tick may be discarded.

What the results mean

The results will include the type of tick along with information about the species. The results can be shared with your health-care provider if you are concerned about a tick bite, but are not needed to diagnose or treat tick-borne illnesses in people or pets.

Read about tick-borne diseases for information about symptoms of Lyme disease, diagnosis and treatment in humans.

Program update

Due to COVID-19, all available resources and staff at Alberta Health, Alberta Health Services Environmental Public Health (AHS-EPH) and Indigenous Services Canada First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (FNIHB), are helping to manage and monitor the pandemic.

Currently, AHS-EPH and FNIHB offices are not accepting tick submissions.

Laboratory testing

Laboratory testing for participating veterinary clinics and the public will commence later in the summer.

Check back for updates.

Health-care provider information

Ticks submitted to the lab by health-care providers are being accepted.

Health-care providers should contact the Alberta Precision Laboratories (APL) Microbiologist-On-Call to consult regarding the submission of the tick and the correct laboratory requisition form to submit with the tick. Refer to the APL Guide to Services – Ticks.

Tick surveillance results

Information on tick surveillance results

What the data means for people in Alberta

Since the tick surveillance program began, there has been a steady increase in the number of ticks submitted by people in Alberta. The proportion of ticks testing positive for the Lyme disease bacteria has not increased.

The risk of Lyme disease substantially increases when a local population of ticks capable of causing the disease becomes established. There is no evidence that ticks capable of carrying the Lyme disease bacteria have formed established populations in Alberta.

Resources