Be watchful for blacklegged ticks
It’s time for a tick talk to help residents protect themselves against Lyme disease, a growing reality in this region, local health officials say.
The Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit encourages people to be watchful for blacklegged ticks – or deer ticks – that can spread Lyme disease. Last year, 17 blacklegged ticks collected as part of the health unit’s surveillance program for Lyme disease were found to be positive for the bacteria that causes the illness. That was largest number of ticks found to be carrying the bacteria that causes Lyme disease in the health unit’s area over the past five years. In 2015, the health unit also reported three confirmed and five probable human cases of Lyme disease in its area, which includes Northumberland County, Haliburton County and the City of Kawartha Lakes
“Recent findings show Lyme disease is on the rise in this area, so it’s important to know the symptoms of Lyme, avoid ticks that can spread illness, and know what to do if bitten,” says Richard Ovcharovich, manager of environmental health with the HKPR District Health Unit.
While Lyme disease is a serious illness that can cause symptoms such as fever, headache, tiredness, muscle and joint pains and skin rashes, it can be successfully treated with antibiotics. That is why the health unit urges people who suspect they have symptoms of Lyme disease to seek medical attention. The health unit is also encouraging health-care providers in the area to consider Lyme disease in their investigation and diagnosis of patients who come to them for help.
To help local residents reduce their risk of Lyme disease, the health unit is advising them to watch out for blacklegged ticks that can spread illness. Since ticks are tiny and cannot fly, they act like “hitchhikers” settling on tall grasses and bushes until they can attach themselves to a passing person or animal. Once attached, ticks will feed on a host’s blood. “Ticks are more likely to spread infection to a person if they’ve fed for more than 24 hours,” Ovcharovich explains. “If you’ve been outdoors, check your entire body for ticks and promptly remove any that you find.”
The health unit offers these additional tips for people to avoid bites from blacklegged ticks:
- Wear light-coloured clothing, which makes ticks easier to spot and remove before they feed.
- Wear closed footwear and socks and, when possible, wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Tuck your pants into your socks, especially if you are walking in long grass.
- Use a tick repellent that contains DEET (follow the manufacturer’s directions for use).
- Protect pets. Dogs, cats and other pets can carry ticks that spread Lyme disease. Pet owners should put tick and flea collars on pets and from time-to-time check dogs and cats for the presence of ticks. Contact your veterinarian if you have any concerns about your pet being exposed to ticks.
If you spend time outdoors during the day, get into the habit to check your body for ticks. Pay special attention to the groin, scalp and armpits. A mirror can be useful to check the back of your body, or ask someone else to check it.
Promptly and properly remove a tick from your body to prevent infection. Using a finely-tipped tweezers, grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible. Pull it straight out, gently but firmly.
Thoroughly clean the bite site with rubbing alcohol and/or soap and water. If possible, place the live tick into a screw-top bottle and take it to your health care provider or health unit. Testing can be done for surveillance purposes to determine if the ticks in this area are the type that can carry Lyme disease.
People can get more information on Lyme disease by calling the health unit at 1-866-888-4577 or visiting www.hkpr.on.ca.