Time For a Tick Talk (June 2017)

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Health Unit Urges People to Avoid Blacklegged Ticks That May Spread the Bacteria That Causes Lyme Disease -       

It’s not a simple walk in the park when spring is prime time for Lyme disease.

May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month, and the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit says it timely for a ‘tick talk’ to remind people to watch out for blacklegged ticks (also known as deer ticks) that can carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Blacklegged ticks live in forests, tall grasses and bushes, and thrive in wet environments. Blacklegged tick populations are known to live along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario, including the Brighton area which is in the Health Unit region.

“While there are known places where blacklegged ticks live, it is possible to encounter an infected blacklegged tick almost anywhere in Ontario,” says Richard Ovcharovich, Manager of Environmental Health with the HKPR District Health Unit. “That’s why we encourage people to avoid infected blacklegged ticks to reduce their risk of Lyme disease. Know the bug, know the bite, know what to do.”

Blacklegged ticks will settle on tall grasses and bushes until they can attach to a passing person or animal. Once attached, ticks will become engorged as they feed on the host’s blood. If the blacklegged tick is infected with the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease, it can pass the disease onto a person – especially if it has fed for more than 24 hours. If someone has been bitten by a tick, it is important to properly and completely remove the tick as soon as possible. In these situations, the Health Unit also advises people to seek immediate medical attention. While Lyme disease is a serious illness, if detected early it can be successfully treated with antibiotics.

Avoiding blacklegged ticks is the best way to keep Lyme disease at bay, says Ovcharovich. “While the risk of an infected tick spreading the bacteria that causes Lyme disease to a person is relatively low, the threat is still there and it is best not to take any chances,” he adds.

To prevent tick bites, the Health Unit recommends the following:

  • Cover up. Clothing is an important layer of protection, especially if walking along trails or through tall grass. Be sure to wear light-coloured clothing to make ticks easier to spot and remove before they bite. 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 insect repellent or bug spray containing DEET on clothes and exposed skin (follow manufacturer’s directions).
  • Check yourself for ticks. After being outdoors, get into the habit of checking 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 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 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 transmit Lyme disease.
  • Protect your pets. Dogs, cats and other pets can carry ticks that spread Lyme disease, putting you at potential exposure. 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.
  • Maintain your property, especially if near a woodland area. Keep your grass mowed short, and trim bushes and tree branches to let in sunlight
  • Visit the Health Unit website (www.hkpr.on.ca) for Lyme prevention resources, including a new Time For a Tick Talk video.

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