June 9, 2013 – How is it possible that such a tiny insect can cause so much harm? Well it can!
Last year Dr. Robbin Lindsay, a research scientist with the Public Health Agency of Canada, who specializes in zoonotic diseases urged Canadians to take more precautions when in and around wooded areas. Protect yourselves from tick bites by wearing long pants with the leg tucked into boots or socks, and wearing closed shoes or boots. After a walk in the woods, it's always a good idea to do a 'tick check' and remove them from your body.
The blacklegged tick population that carries Lyme disease (also known as deer tick) is growing. "…we have seen a tremendous change in the range and expansion of these ticks," says Dr. Lindsay. In 1989, there was only one known population of blacklegged ticks in southern Ontario and now there are established populations in southeastern Quebec, southern and eastern Ontario, southeastern Manitoba and parts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
Many of the ticks carry the Borrelia Burgdorferi bacteria, which causes Lyme disease. In some areas of Canada between 10 – 50% of blacklegged ticks are now carrying Lyme bacteria, so the risk of Lyme disease is reasonably low, but as the ticks become more established, the infection rate will rise. Currently there are about 150 cases reported each year in Canada.
The symptoms of Lyme disease usually happen in three stages and vary from person to person. The first sign of infection is usually a circular rash that looks like a bull's eye, which is called erythema migrans (EM). This rash occurs in about 70-80 % of infected people. It begins at the site of the tick bite after a delay of three days to one month and can persist for up to eight weeks. Typical signs of skin irritation such as itchiness, scaling, pain, swelling, or exudation (the act or instance of oozing forth) are not normally associated with EM. Other common symptoms include fatigue, chills, fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes.
If left untreated, the Second Stage of the disease, known as disseminated Lyme disease, can last up to several months and include:
- central and peripheral nervous system disorders
- multiple skin rashes
- arthritis and arthritic symptoms
- heart palpitations, and
- extreme fatigue and general weakness
The Third Stage can last months to years with symptoms that can include recurring arthritis and neurological disorders. Fatalities from Lyme disease are very rare.
Six years ago, Marleen Meerkat was bitten by an infected tick and developed a fever and blinding headache. She started sleeping 10 hours a night and had absolutely no energy. It took years for Marleen to be properly diagnosed (even though the treatment is simple if it is caught early). After trying a few cycles of antibiotic prescriptions, she eventually went to a specialist in the United States to receive treatment, but states that she is still only about 70% better.
Elizabeth May, Green Party Leader, is planning to introduce a private member's bill in Parliament calling for a Canadian strategy on Lyme disease. "A lot of Canadians are oblivious to the fact that getting bitten by a tick can ruin their lives….we need to work with the provinces and territories to get the message down to the physicians, that the situation is changing and that they may be seeing Lyme disease more than they ever have before", says Elizabeth May. She's trying to gain more awareness of the threat of Lyme disease, and greater Government response, diagnosis and treatment.
To source more information on ticks, please click on:
Ticks Can Pass on Other Diseases
- Human Granulocytic Anaplasmosi. This disease is often difficult to diagnose because symptoms can be non-specific. Most people experience headaches, fever, chills, myalgia and an overall sensation of being unwell.
- Human Babesiosis. This malaria-like infection was first identified in the U.S. on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts.
- Powassan Encephalitis Virus. This is a potentially deadly disease named for the Ontario town where it was first diagnosed. There have been 27 reported cases across North America since 1958.
Precautions You Can Take to Avoid Being Bitten by a Tick
- When walking in wooded areas wear long pants with the pant legs tucked into boots or socks.
- Wear long sleeved shirts that fit tightly at the wrist to keep ticks from getting to your bare skin.
- Wear closed shoes - no sandals.
- Wear light-coloured clothing so that ticks can be seen more easily.
- Insect repellents containing DEET (Diethyltoluamide) can effectively repel ticks.
- Repellents can be applied to clothing as well as exposed skin but should not be applied to skin underneath clothing.
- To maintain effectiveness, the repellent may need to be repeated more frequently than required for mosquito or black flies. We highly recommend that you follow label directions.
- Perform a careful self-inspection on yourself, your family members and pets for attached ticks when leaving a wooded area. A daily total-body inspection and prompt removal of attached ticks (within 36 hours) can reduce the transmission of the bacterium Borrelia Burgdorferi from infected ticks. Blacklegged ticks are very small, particularly during the nymph stage, so look carefully.
- Carefully remove attached ticks using tweezers. Grasp the tick's head and mouthparts as close to the skin as possible and pull slowly until the tick is removed. Do not twist or rotate the tick and try not to squash or crush the tick during removal.
- After removing a tick, wash the bite site with soap and water or disinfect it with alcohol or household antiseptic.
- Place the tick in an empty pill vial or zip-lock bag and write the date of the tick bite on the container.
- Contact a doctor immediately if you develop symptoms of Lyme disease, especially when you have been in an area where blacklegged ticks are prevalent. If you have saved the tick, take it with you to the doctor's office.
Precautions You Can Take to Reduce Tick Habitats near Your Home
Ticks are primarily found in densely wooded areas and the unmaintained transitional edge habitat between woodlands and open areas. Fewer ticks are found in ornamental vegetation and lawn areas. Within the lawn, most of the ticks are located within 3 metres of the lawn perimeter particularly along woodlands, stonewalls, or ornamental plantings.
- Mow the grass regularly.
- Remove leaf litter, brush and weeds at the edge of the lawn.
- Restrict the use of groundcover in areas frequented by the family or pets.
- Remove brush and leaves around stonewalls and woodpiles.
- Discourage rodent activity by seal stonewalls and small openings around the home.
- Move firewood piles and bird feeders away from your house.
- Keep dogs and cats out of the woods.
- Move children’s swing sets and sand boxes away from the woodland edge and place them on a woodchip or mulch foundation.
- Trim tree branches and shrubs around the lawn edge to let in more sunlight.
- Adopt hard landscape and xeriscape landscape practices.
- Create a 3-meter or wider woodchip, mulch, and gravel border between lawn and woods, or stonewalls.
- Consider decking, tile, gravel and border or container plantings on areas nearest the house or frequently travelled.
- Widen woodland trails.
- Use plantings that do not attract deer or exclude deer by fencing.
- Consider a least-toxic pesticide application as a targeted barrier treatment.
'Precautions' listed above are courtesy of Public Health Agency of Canada.
Initially identified at Long Point and Point Pelee, Ontario, Lyme disease was unknown in Canada until 1980. Today doctors are required to report all Lyme disease cases to the Public Health Agency of Canada. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) receives reports of about 20,000 cases in the United States every year and states this number represents only about 10% of the actual cases.
Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases: Information for Health Professionals – from the Public Health Agency of Canada. This document includes:
- Geographical maps depicting established tick populations in Canada
- New Lyme endemic areas
- Surveillance for cases of Lyme disease in Canadians
- Surveillance for Lyme disease endemic areas
- Other tick-borne diseases in Canada
- Identifying Ticks
- Submitting Ticks for Identification and Testing