Residents living in town as well as in rural areas are reporting tick activity on their properties over the last month. Millbrook IDA’s Pharmacist Steve Suszko has noticed an increase in tick complaints; on a single day last month three customers came in for help with tick bites. It’s no surprise that as COVID-19 restrictions start to ease and the weather warms up, residents are venturing outside more, seeking outdoor recreation. Peterborough Public Health (PPH) recommends residents take extra precaution during the summer and fall to prevent tick bites, especially in areas that are forested or have tall grasses, weeds or many shrubs, as they can lead to the development of Lyme disease which is a potentially serious and growing health risk.
Ticks can be as small as a sesame seed and their bites are usually painless, but the Blacklegged tick variety are potential carriers of Lyme disease. These ticks are slow moving, non-flying parasites closely related to spiders and mites. Adults are typically red and dark brown in colour and very small (1 to 5 mm in length) when unfed. Young ticks or nymphs are lighter in colour and even smaller in size. As ticks feed, they can grow to the size of a grape. All active stages of ticks feed on blood in order to grow and develop.
If you are venturing out in areas inhabited by ticks PPH recommends a few precautions. Wear long, light-coloured clothing and tuck pant legs into socks. Before you head out, spray an insect repellent containing DEET sparingly on your clothes and exposed skin to keep ticks away. When hiking, stick to the middle of the trail to minimize contact with bushes and long grasses. Check your clothing and entire body for ticks after returning from being outdoors, paying special attention to hidden areas like the groin, armpit, scalp, and back of the knee and take a quick shower to wash off any ticks that may be crawling on your body. Run outdoor clothing through the dryer cycle for 60 minutes on high heat before washing as ticks cannot survive the heat of the dryer.
Check pets for ticks because they can also pick ticks up from outdoors and bring them into your home.
If you are bitten by a tick, remove it immediately using a pair of clean, fine-tipped tweezers, gently pulling the insect straight out, without twisting to ensure all parts are removed. Wash the affected area with soap or hand sanitizer. An infected tick has to be feeding for at least 24 hours before it can effectively transmit the bacteria to a human host.
The best way to determine if the tick belongs to the species that carries the Lyme bacteria is to submit a photograph of the insect to the website www.etick.ca. Once a photo is successfully submitted, the results will be available within 48 hours. Real-time mapping of tick submissions is also shown on the website.
If you believe you may have been bitten, speak to your health care provider. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with antibiotics, but left untreated, it can cause recurring arthritis, and neurological problems.
The first sign is usually a circular rash in the shape of a bull’s eye. Other symptoms include fever, chills, headache, muscle and joint pain, fatigue and swollen lymph nodes. For more details about Lyme disease, visit www.peterboroughpublichealth.ca. KG