Ticks are small and spider-like, and vary in colour and size, from very small when not feeding to grape-sized when feeding. Ticks live on birds and animals in Alberta, and new species of ticks can travel into Alberta when birds and animals migrate here in the spring. They attach themselves to people or animals and feed on their blood, most often from early spring to late summer.
Some types of ticks can carry a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, which can cause Lyme disease in humans. Surveillance by the province shows that the types of ticks that can carry this bacteria do not have established populations in Alberta, but a small number show up in the province by travelling on animals or birds.
Humans can get Lyme disease when they are bitten by a tick that has been infected with the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. Lyme disease in humans can have serious symptoms but can be effectively treated, especially if diagnosed early.
To date, all cases of Lyme disease reported in Alberta were acquired while travelling outside the province to areas where Lyme disease is circulating.
The provincial surveillance program does not test for Lyme disease in people. Anyone concerned about a tick bite or who thinks they may have Lyme disease should visit their doctor.
How to Avoid Tick Bites
To help avoid getting bitten:
- Cover up as much skin as possible when going into wooded or grassy areas.Wear a hat, light-coloured, long-sleeved clothing and tuck your pant legs into your socks.
- Use bug spray that has the chemical DEET, IR3535 or Icaridin to repel ticks.
- Check your pets for ticks after they’ve been outside. You can’t get Lyme disease from your pet but your pet can bring infected ticks inside. These ticks can fall off your pet and attach to you.
How to safely remove a tick:
If you find a tick on yourself, it is important to remove it properly as soon as possible.
- With tweezers, gently grasp the tick’s head and mouth parts as close to your skin as possible.
- Slowly pull the tick straight out. Do not jerk or twist it. Try not to squash it.
- Save the tick in a clean, empty container. Do not add ventilation. Add a small piece of tissue, lightly moistened with water, to prevent the tick from drying out.
- Do not apply matches, cigarettes or petroleum jellies to the tick as these may cause an infected tick to release bacteria 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.
Alberta's Surveillance Program
The Alberta government has been testing ticks found on animals since 2007, and ticks found on animals, humans and in the environment since 2013.
Any ticks you find on yourself, your animals or in the environment can be submitted to the province’s tick surveillance program.
Submitted ticks will be checked to see if they are a species capable of carrying the bacteria that can cause Lyme disease. Any ticks capable of carrying the bacteria will be checked to see if they test positive.
Ticks can be submitted at any time of year.
Results from the tick surveillance program
- The types of ticks that can carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease do not have established populations in Alberta. This means the risk of getting Lyme disease in Alberta is very low.
- In 2017, 2,852 ticks were submitted to the program. Of these, 48 ticks found in Alberta tested positive for the bacteria that can cause Lyme disease.
- Between 2013 and 2017, tick submissions have almost tripled but the proportion of ticks testing positive for Lyme disease has not increased.
Submit Your Tick
Ticks can be submitted to an environmental public health office, a First Nations Health Centre or a physician. Ticks found on pets or livestock should be submitted to a veterinarian.
A list of Environmental Public Health Offices is available on Alberta Health’s website