This year, the Bailieboro Women’s Institute Spring Luncheon featured a guest speaker from Peterborough Public Health informing the audience about some of the less desirable aspects of the upcoming season.
In her presentation about Vector-Borne Diseases, Wanda Tonus outlined some specific health challenges that come with warmer weather and offered suggestions about their identification, treatment and prevention.
The first health risk discussed was West Nile Virus. First identified in Windsor in 2001, this virus is spread by a bite from an infected mosquito which has been infected by biting an infected bird. The virus is not contagious, and is more prevalent in urban settings and in mild and wet conditions that support pools of stagnant water where mosquitos breed.
The good news is that 80% of those who are infected by the virus show no symptoms. The remaining 20% will experience West Nile fever, which may be accompanied by headaches, muscle aches and rashes. Less than one percent of those infected will experience severe symptoms such as encephalitis and meningitis, which are sometimes fatal. The risk of severe illness increases with age, and for those suffering from chronic diseases or weakened or developing immune systems. There is no vaccine for West Nile and it is not treatable with antibiotics. Those experiencing severe symptoms are usually treated in the hospital.
The second health issue outlined during the event was Lyme disease. First discovered in 1975 in Lyme, Connecticut, the bacterial infection and has since moved north. It is spread by the bite of an infected female blacklegged or deer ticks. They look like small spiders, and adult blacklegged ticks are typically red and dark brown in colour and range in size from 1 to 5 mm in length, expanding to the size of a grape while feeding.
These transmitters can’t fly or jump, but travel on hosts including deer, migratory birds, pets and humans who pick them up while moving through tall grasses, weeds or leaf litter. To develop Lyme disease, the infected tick must be attached to its human host for at least 24 hours. Lyme disease can cause persistent and serious symptoms to those infected. Symptoms surface from 3 to 30 days after infection, and the infection is diagnosed through blood tests. For most people, the first sign of infection is a circular rash in the shape of a bull’s eye, but not everyone exhibits this rash, particularly children. Other signs and symptoms include fever, chills, headache, muscle and joint pain, fatigue and swollen lymph nodes. The disease can be treated with antibiotics. If undiagnosed, later symptoms can include migraines, weakness, multiple skin rashes, painful or stiff joints, abnormal heartbeat and extreme fatigue which can persist for several months, and in later stages, chronic arthritis and neurological symptoms, headaches, dizziness, numbness and paralysis lasting for years.
Peterborough Public Health encourages people who find a tick on their body to carefully remove it and submit it for testing. Last year they analysed almost 200 ticks, half of which were the correct species, seven tested positive for the infection, two of which originated in Peterborough County.
Ms. Tonus offered simple precautions to reduce the risk of acquiring these illnesses. For West Nile, avoid being outside at dusk and dawn, when mosquitos are most active. Eliminate standing water to reduce the opportunity for mosquito breeding, including water sitting on the surface of covers on unopened swimming pools in the spring. To avoid bites from ticks as well as mosquitos, long sleeves and pants eliminate most opportunities for these pesks, and the application of DEET repellant is also effective. When visiting areas where ticks are likely, and avoid tall grasses or shower after to remove any attached insects.
While Public Health focuses on human health risks, ticks are a pest for pets as well. According to Dr. Scott Sargent of Peterborough West Animal Hospital on Stewart Line, ticks have become more prevalent in this area in the last 5 years. During the spring and fall, pets arrive at his clinic every week bearing ticks, and are increasingly receiving a diagnosis of Lyme disease. Tick prevention medication for dogs and cats is readily available, and there is a vaccine for dogs. Staff recommends vaccinating dogs that spend time on the north shore areas of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario or the St. Lawrence River where infected ticks are even more prevalent.
Spring is particularly welcome this year and by taking a few precautions, we can take advantage of it while avoiding some of the pitfalls that come with it and do as Glen Spurrell suggests each month- get out! KG