With the advent of warmer spring weather, folks are beginning to venture out in greater numbers into natural spaces to enjoy the benefits of fresh air, exercise and communing with flora and fauna. At the same time, the warmer weather has increased tick activity which is a potential health threat to both people and their pets.
Like a slow invading army, ticks are gradually expanding their territory throughout Eastern Ontario, already seen as a hotbed for ticks within Ontario. And with the growth of the tick population, there is the similar increase in the number of cases of Lyme disease amongst humans.
Current estimates have shown that one in four ticks within the Cataraqui region carry the bacteria associated with Lyme disease. Logic would dictate that if the overall tick population is on the rise, the incidences of Lyme disease will also be on the rise.
According to the Centres for Disease Control, the lifecycle of blacklegged ticks generally lasts two years. During this time, they go through four life stages: egg, six-legged larva, eight-legged nymph, and adult. After the eggs hatch, the ticks must have a blood meal at every stage to survive. Blacklegged ticks can feed from mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. The ticks need to have a new host at each stage of their life.
Ticks can't fly or jump. Instead, they wait for a host, resting on the tips of grasses and shrubs in a position known as ‘questing.’ While questing, ticks hold onto leaves and grass by their lower legs. They hold their upper pair of legs outstretched, waiting to climb onto a passing host. When a host brushes the spot where a tick is waiting, it quickly climbs aboard. It then finds a suitable place to bite its host.
Lyme disease is spread to humans through the bite of an infected blacklegged tick. Not all blacklegged ticks carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Public Health Ontario has identified the KFL&A area as a high-risk area for Lyme disease. KFL&A Public Health receives reports of human Lyme disease from local physicians. In 2019, there were 285 cases reported to KFL&A Public Health.
Already a hardy creature, some ticks can survive in sub-zero temperatures and generally thrive in warmer temperatures.
There are a variety of symptoms associated with Lyme disease. The problem is that many of the earliest symptoms are similar to those of the flu,. These symptoms include sore throat, headaches, congestion and stiff muscles and joints.
Lyme disease symptoms impact practically every part of the human body. Here are some of the other symptoms. This is only a sample list:
- Unexplained hair loss
- Facial paralysis (Bell’s Palsy, Horner’s syndrome)
- Jaw pain or stiffness
- Double vision or blurred vision and oversensitivity to light
- Ringing, buzzing in ears, decreased hearing, pain and oversensitivity to sound
- Various digestive or gastrointestinal ailments
- Night sweats or unexplained chills
- Heart palpitations, shortness of breath, heart blockage
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Tremors and/or burning or stabbing sensations
- Heighted depression, mood swings, disorientation, sleep issues, panic attacks
- Memory loss, confusion, stammering, loss of concentration or co-ordination
- Sexual dysfunction, loss of sex drive
- Unexplained weight loss or gain
- Continual infections
- Symptoms come and go.
As public health officials throughout the Cataraqui watershed and elsewhere in the province have been saying for a number of years, there are things that individuals can do to help protect themselves, their families and their pets from contracting this debilitating ailment when going out onto trails, into bush or forested areas.
- Wear light-coloured clothing (so you can see the ticks easier).
- Wear long pants and long sleeves. Tuck your pants into your socks.
- Don’t wear sandals or open-toed shoes.
- Use insect repellants that are federally regulated and contain DEET.
- After you’ve been outside, thoroughly check your clothing, body and pets for ticks. Showering right away will help removed ticks if they have not attached themselves yet.
For more information on how to prevent and treat Lyme disease, go to the following KFL&A Public Health link: https://www.kflaph.ca/en/healthy-living/Lyme-Disease.aspx
And for the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation, visit www.canlyme.com.
e-tick.ca is an online tool that allows you to upload and view images of ticks submitted from other users in Canada. Interactive maps allow you to monitor tick populations across the country.