The ticks are marching onward - be aware of Lyme disease risk
Spring is a wonderful time of year. In a matter of days buds burst forth with new life, creating big green tree crowns, which were just days before naked looking. The onset of warmer spring weather triggers growth of most forms of flora and fauna, both welcome and unwelcome.
In case you have not heard the news, the range of ticks is expanding. If they are not yet in obvious existence in your area, be forewarned that they are likely on their way. The thought of ticks crawling on your body is enough to make most people squirm, but knowing about this critter is also important from a human health standpoint.
It is important that people become aware of what a blacklegged (or deer) tick looks like. There are many different types of ticks in Nova Scotia. The blacklegged tick is sometimes a carrier for Lyme disease, which can be a very debilitating disease.
The reason for this article on ticks is two-fold. Over the past year I learned that a forestry colleague from New Brunswick acquired Lyme disease from a tick bite while working. His life has been dramatically affected by it. This gentleman was one of those hyperactive people who was always busy organizing things and loved to be in the middle of activities and helping others. When he first acquired symptoms such as fatigue, muscle aches and headaches, several doctors had trouble diagnosing the problem. When the disease was eventually identified, it was well underway and there has since been an ongoing battle to find the best treatment due its relative scarcity and unfamiliarity in the medical practitioner world.
If the disease is not treated, serious long-term affects can occur such as facial palsy, heart problems or chronic joint pain and mobility problems. Now back at work, my colleague has learned to live with Lyme disease. He is now an activist trying to encourage proactive measures and education in New Brunswick to try to reduce the number of people that could suffer the same fate as he, all due to the bite of a deer tick.
It is clear that tick populations are growing in areas of Nova Scotia where they previously were not evident. For instance, over the last two to three years, there have been ticks found in Halifax, Hants and Colchester counties where they were not known to exist before. This could be due to climate change, which could be causing a warming effect that is permitting the migration of ticks northward in Nova Scotia from their well-established populations in the southwestern region.
There is certainly no need for panic. The black-legged tick has been found in only a few locations in Nova Scotia thus far, including an area near Shelburne, the Lunenburg area and Admiral Cove in Bedford. As well, to-date there have only been 12 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in the province since 2002.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted to humans and pets by a bite from an infected
Blacklegged tick. Ticks are arthropods closely related to spiders. They stick to skin and feed on blood. They are active mostly in summer months and are most commonly found in tall grasses.
Only Blacklegged ticks carry Lyme disease. It can only transmit Lyme disease after it has filled itself with blood, which takes about 24 hours. Therefore, this provides plenty of time for people to check themselves for tick hitchhikers after being outside.
Adult ticks may feed and contract the Lyme disease bacteria on a variety of hosts including humans, mammals, reptiles and birds. The body size of a tick is very small (such as a small freckle) in early spring and then increases into the summer as it goes from larva to nymph and then adult. Blacklegged ticks are brown to reddish-orange, lack white markings on their backs and are much smaller than dog ticks.
Following are tips to avoid contact with ticks and Lyme disease:
1. When entering the woods or grassy fields, wear light coloured clothing, long sleeved shirts and long pants that are tucked into the socks. Bug dope containing DEET works on ticks.
2. After coming out of areas that may contain ticks, check yourself carefully for ticks on your clothing and body, and perhaps have someone else check you. Check the back of your neck, along the hairline, under your arms and the groin area. Ticks will migrate to the warmer areas of the body.
3. If a tick is found, properly remove it as soon as possible. Using tweezers, grab the tick from behind and around the head, pulling straight back gently. Put the tick in an old pill bottle or plastic bag and forward it to the nearest DNR office for identification.
For more information and photos on ticks and Lyme disease, see: www.gov.ns.ca/hpp/ocmoh/lyme.htm.