Augusta and area community urged to be tick smart to avoid getting Lyme disease
Augusta Matters by Mayor Doug Malanka
Last week, I attended the Association of Local Health Unit Agencies (alPHa) Conference which included a session on Lyme Disease. One of the take aways for me is that ticks that carry the bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi) are here in our area in significant numbers. Given the serious conditions that can occur for anyone exposed to the bacterium and untreated and the fact that friends and residents are increasing reporting seeing ticks on their bodies and on their pets, I was highly motivated to pass along verbatim information to readers that is currently on the Leeds Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit (Health Unit). I also refer to their poster entitled, Ticks and Lyme Disease – Get Tick Smart for information.
First, it is important to know that not all ticks carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. The black-legged tick or deer tick now commonly found in our area and some of these ticks carry the bacteria responsible for causing Lyme Disease. Although the black-legged tick is our current concern, it is important to know there are many types of ticks that can spread other diseases to people through bites. To help you enjoy the outdoors while protecting you and your family from ticks: keep the grass in your yard mowed and remove leaf litter and brush from the edges of your property (especially if it borders natural areas); create a natural physical separation between your yard and wooded areas using a border of wood chips or gravel; clean up areas under and around bird feeders to reduce the attraction of small critters such as mice that help transport ticks and are necessary hosts for ticks to complete their life cycle; and place children’s play structures away from wooded areas.
To avoid exposure to ticks and the possibility of Lyme Disease, the Health Unit recommends the following precautions that will help to reduce your risk:
- When weather permits, wear long sleeves and long pants and closed-toe shoes to ensure your skin is covered.
- Wear light coloured clothing as it allows you to spot ticks that may have crawled on you.
- Tuck pants into socks to prevent ticks from crawling up your legs if you are going to be hiking through the bush.
- Insect repellents containing DEET or Icaridin can be sprayed on clothing or skin to repel ticks (be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for safe use).
- Stay on the groomed part of trails where there is no vegetation for ticks to hide on.
- Do a complete tick check of your entire body when you return from the outdoors and have someone check the back side of you.
- A quick shower may help wash away ticks that have not yet attached.
- Outdoor wear can be placed in the drier for a few minutes to kill ticks.
- Speak to your vet about ways to protect your pets.
- If you discover a tick, don’t squeeze it, try to burn it off or put anything on it. Grasp the tick by the head as close to the skin as possible and pull it straight out gently but firmly. Use tweezers if possible and be patient. Once removed clean the bite are with soap and water or a disinfectant. Make a note of the date you removed the tick.
Lyme disease transmission depends on the length of time the infected tick is attached. Ticks that are removed quickly and have been attached for less than 24 hours are not likely to transfer the bacteria. However if the tick has been attached for longer than 24 hours you may be at an increased risk and it is recommended that you consult your health care provider. If you find a tick on your body, check to see if it flat or fat. A fat tick is an indication that it has been feeding for a longer period of time. If you see a tick on your body that looks like an unfed tick, the tick was probably attached for less than 24 hours such that there was not time to transfer the bacterium. If the tick appears engorged, this indicates that the tick has been attached for a longer period of time and may have transferred the bacteria.
Early Lyme disease symptoms can range from a bulls-eye rash around the bite area, to headache, fever and muscle/joint pain. Symptoms can appear from 3 days to several weeks following a tick bite. Consult your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms. When patients are treated very early in the course of the illness, antibodies may not develop.
Lyme disease in the late stages may develop in people with early infection that was undetected or not adequately treated. Late disease may involve the heart, nervous system and joints; arrhythmias, heart block, and sometimes myopericarditis; recurrent arthritis affecting large joints (i.e. knees); peripheral neuropathy; central nervous system manifestations – meningitis; encephalopathy (i.e. behavior changes, sleep disturbance, headaches); and fatigue. This is included here not to frighten anyone, but to show that this issue must be taken seriously.
The Health Unit advises that tick specimens are not used for diagnosis of disease so they are no longer accepted at the Health Unit. For more information about ticks and Lyme disease:
- Visit the Health Unit’s Insect Bites and Diseases section of their website; or
- Call 1-800-660-5853.