Ticks and Lyme disease – There are many species of ticks, but the one making headlines and concerning everyone the most is the ‘Ixodes Tick’, more popularly known as the ‘deer’ or ‘black-legged’ tick and known to carry Lyme disease. Ticks and Lyme disease are a growing problem in Canada – and it is not about to get better. There is another lesser known disease that is concerning scientists at Canada’s Public Health Agency called the Powassan Virus.
But don’t get too alarmed. Although it is a potentially life-threatening virus like Lyme disease and spread by ticks, including the Ixodes Tick, it is still rare in Canada. Scientists and experts in the field are attributing part of the blame on the rise of ticks to climate change, which is creating conditions that favour them. And it’s spreading across the globe.
In Quebec, there has been a steady rise in Lyme disease, from 32 cases reported in 2011 to 159 cases in 2016 – but the good news is not all ticks carry Lyme disease. In fact, the odds of getting a Lyme disease related infection from an ‘Ixodes Tick’ bite are less than 5%.
So before you decide to cancel that camping trip or cover yourself in protective mesh from head to toe for a walk along a forested trail or in a field of tall grass, here are a few of the things you might want to know about ticks and the disease from the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation (CanLyme):
– Lyme disease is present in most of Canada. Although Lyme infection is more common in rural areas, residents that live in urban areas are also at risk for infection. It is the migratory birds, robins and song sparrows etc. that bring this disease in each season.
– An average Deer Tick lives for two years and can survive in very cold climates. Although infection rates drop in the winter primarily because people spend less time outdoors, it’s still possible to contract Lyme.
– Although rashes are fairly common, only 30% of Lyme patients report experiencing a rash, and only 9% develop the classic ‘bull’s eye’ rash.
– Most people with Chronic Lyme Disease can return to work and carry on with few limitations on their lifestyle. Lyme disease remains one of the most treatable of chronic illnesses.
– How do you know if you contracted Lyme disease? The first physical signs of Lyme infection are often flu-like symptoms: sore throat, headaches, congestion and stiffness – and could be followed by other symptoms like: unexplained hair loss, twitching of facial or other muscles, double or blurry vision and buzzing in ears.
If I listed every possible symptom here, the odds are you have experienced at least one or more of them, but it does not mean you contracted Lyme disease at all. Instead, experts recommend prevention as the best way to avoid being bitten by a tick:
– Wear light-colored long sleeve tops and pants – with socks pulled up over the pant legs, especially if you are out on a hike or in wooded areas. (Light colored garments make it easier to see if any ticks are on your clothes, so they can be removed before getting on your skin)
– If you can, walk along paths instead of through tall grass
– Use insect repellent
– Checking your entire body for ticks after time spent in wooded areas
– Carefully remove any you find as soon as possible
– For those in rural areas, keep the grass on your property short and rake up the leaves
And if you find you have been bitten by a tick, there is a way ‘how to’ and ‘how not to’ remove it.
HOW NOT TO REMOVE A TICK:
The following tick removal methods are NOT recommended:
– Burning the tick off with a match or cigarette lighter
– ‘Suffocating’ the tick with petroleum jelly or oils
– Gripping the tick with thumb and forefinger and tugging at it
HOW TO SAFELY REMOVE A TICK (CanLyme):
– With a pair of fine pointed tweezers, and a steady hand, you can grasp the mouthparts of the tick, NOT the body of the tick, and slowly pull the tick straight out.
– The ‘straw and knot’ method is an easy, effective, removal method. Place an ordinary drinking straw at a 45-degree angle over the tick. (The straw is simply being used as a guide to direct the knot).
Take a length of thread (or dental floss) and tie a loose knot at the top or midsection of the straw. Slide your knot down the straw to where the tick is attached. Position the knot underneath the tick’s belly, so that the knot will encircle the embedded mouthparts only. Slowly tighten the knot to close snugly around the mouthparts of the tick. Remove the straw and pull the thread in a steady upward motion. This will cause the tick to detach, but should inhibit regurgitation of bacteria that may be in the midgut. Remember that the skin may be swollen around the site of the tick.
If symptoms such as a rash, fever, headache, fatigue, neck stiffness and muscle or joint pain occur within a month after getting bit, call Info-Santé at 811 or see a doctor.
The safest rule is, ‘the sooner you remove the tick the greater the chance of preventing infection’. This is one reason why checking over your body carefully at the end of a long walk in the woods, then showering using a facecloth and back scrubber to scrub the body is usually sufficient to avoid infection even if the tick has already attached because ticks can be brushed off easily if not yet fully attached.
And don’t forget to lookout for your pets as well!
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