Summer brings tick threat

Local family warns of tick danger after daughter displays symptoms of Lyme disease

If it weren’t for the telltale bull’s-eye rash that appeared on his daughter’s arm, John Murphy might have never known that his seven-year-old had been bitten by a tick.

“It was from the April 23 Pitch In Day around the Whistler Cay area,” Murphy said. “My daughter was going into some of the bushes to pick up some of the garbage to put in her bag. That’s the only place we could figure this came from.”

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After the bite appeared he racked his brain trying to recall seeing a tick. Suddenly, he remembered he had flicked a poppy seed-sized speck off her arm and realized that must have been it.

He took her to the emergency room after the rash — one indicator of Lyme disease — appeared. “The doctor said the odds of catching Lyme disease are quite low,” he said. “He said it could be a fungal infection, but there was this huge taboo about Lyme disease. He prescribed a precautionary antibiotic and we weren’t too concerned about it.”

But when he went to fill the prescription and got mixed messages from pharmacists, Murphy began to worry. “One told us, ‘we don’t get ticks in Whistler.’

We spoke to another pharmacist who said, ‘this is very serious. This is a tick bite and it could be Lyme disease,’” he said.

While the family searches for concrete answers, Murphy said he wants to warn others that ticks do exist in Whistler — and not just in the backcountry.

“How many other little kids are running around Whistler Cay?” he said. “My kids are always playing in the forest or grass, so it’s quite worrying… I would be checking my kids more thoroughly each evening.”  

Ticks are more common in areas with deciduous trees, but there’s never been a study to support the commonly held belief that ticks are more prevalent in Pemberton and Squamish, said Dr. David Patrick, director of the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health.

“I think any time you brush up against the undergrowth think about protection in advance, or at least check yourself when you get back,” Patrick said. “Maybe there are fewer in Whistler than Squamish and Pemberton, but I don’t know that. No one has ever done a survey.”

While experts might not know the risk of ticks locally, they do know how rare Lyme disease is in B.C. compared to communities in Eastern Canada and the U.S. About one in 200 ticks are infected with Borrelia, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. “That’s really important to know,” Patrick said. “One in 200 says that it’s there, but this is 50 to 100 times less common than if you’re bitten in Connecticut.”

Still, the bull’s-eye rash should be enough motivation for a doctor to prescribe antibiotics, he added. “We suggest to your family doctor that they over treat a little bit to be on the safe side,” he said.

But preventing tick bites is the best course of action, he said. For one, if you’re going to be brushing up against the undergrowth — the reason why dogs are so susceptible to ticks — wear long sleeves, tuck your pants into your socks and use DEET, Patrick said.

Showering as soon as you’re able also ensures that ticks that haven’t attached will wash away. Doing a tick check when you get home is also a good idea.

If you find a tick, remove it properly with tweezers, ensuring you remove the head.

Another tip: “Beware of the Internet when it comes to ticks and Lyme disease,” Patrick said. “Not all the information is accurate.”

Murphy, meanwhile, just hopes to find some solid answers about whether or not his daughter might have contracted the disease. “The feedback so far from professionals has concerned me a little bit,” he said. “They’re in denial, that’s my description of it. I’m not getting that confidence from the people I speak to… It might be an overreaction on our part, but we don’t want to take any chances.”

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