Health Unit Stresses Why It’s Important
To Be Tick Smart This Summer
The Peterborough County-City Health Unit is encouraging all residents to educate themselves and be aware of Lyme disease, a potentially serious illness and growing health concern across Ontario.
“It is important that everyone, from the occasional outdoor adventurist to the avid camper, is aware of how Lyme disease spreads and what precautions to take to avoid becoming infected,” said Elizabeth Finlan of the Health Unit’s Vector Borne Disease Program.
Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi and is spread to humans through the bite of an infected blacklegged tick. Blacklegged ticks are small in size (1-5 mm when unfed), red-brown in colour and do not fly. They are usually found low to the ground or settled on tall grasses and bushes where they will wait until they can attach themselves to a person or animal passing by.
Blacklegged ticks become infected with the Lyme disease-causing bacterium after feeding on the blood of infected birds or other small animals such as mice and squirrels. Once infected, blacklegged ticks can spread the bacterium to humans if they remain attached for more than 24 hours after they have begun feeding.
For the best protection against Lyme disease, the Health Unit recommends:
• Wearing light-coloured clothing, which will make ticks easier to see.
• Wearing closed footwear and socks, long sleeved shirts and long pants and tucking your pants into your socks.
• Using a bug repellent that contains DEET, following the manufacturer’s directions.
• Searching your body for ticks at least once a day if you are in an area where you might encounter a tick, paying special attention to the scalp, groin, back of the knees and armpits.
• Checking your pets for ticks. Although Lyme disease cannot be spread from pets to humans, pets can bring ticks into your home so it is important to check them for ticks regularly.
• Keeping your lawn neatly mowed and removing leaf debris on a regular basis, which will help to reduce humidity in your yard and lower your risk of encountering ticks.
In Ontario, tick populations are expanding, creating a rise in the number of Lyme disease cases. In 2011, there were a total of 140 cases of Lyme disease acquired in Ontario compared to 96 cases in 2010. Regions of the province with well established tick populations include areas that border the north shores of Lake Erie, LakeOntario and the St. Lawrence River as well as several provincial parks but tick populations are expanding into new regions of the province including Eastern Ontario. Ticks can attach themselves to migratory birds and travel anywhere in the province, so it is important to take proper precautions against Lyme disease when outdoors in any potential tick habitat, even if it is your own backyard.
If you do locate a tick on your body, it is important to have the tick removed immediately. Use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible and pull the tick straight out. Save the tick in an empty screw-top bottle or zipper-closed bag and take it to the Health Unit at 10 Hospital Drive. The tick will then be sent away to the Ontario Public Health Laboratory for identification. If the tick is positively identified as a blacklegged tick, it will be sent for further analysis and tested for the presence of the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, the infectious agent of Lyme disease.
If you have travelled to an area that is known to have a population of blacklegged ticks or Lyme disease, be aware of the following symptoms as they may indicate early stages of the disease: fever, headache, muscle pain, joint pain and fatigue. Redness or a bulls-eye shaped skin rash at the site of the bite is also a common sign of Lyme disease. If you are exhibiting these signs or symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.
For further information, visit the Lyme disease section of the Health Unit’s website.