Tick season is upon us, and a recent report by the Public Health Agency of Canada adds that climate change is increasing the population and spread of the bug. With the increase in Tick populations comes the risk and fear of Lyme Disease. Lyme disease is a serious illness spread by the bite of the black-legged tick (formerly known as the deer tick). Ticks are small insect-like parasites that feed on the blood of animals, including humans. When they feed on animals such as deer, mice, squirrels, birds and other small animals, they can pick up bacteria known as Borrelia burgdorferi (yes, it does sound like the name of a Formula 1 racer). They can then pass the bacteria to humans by biting us. Although ticks can be active throughout much of the year, your risk of getting Lyme disease, especially in areas where tick populations are established, is greatest during the summer months when younger ticks are most active. Lyme disease is not spread from person to person. Cats and dogs can get Lyme disease, but there is no evidence that they pass the infection to people. Pets can, however, carry infected ticks into your home or yard. A thorough check of your furry best friend can remove ticks before they have time to feed or spread. You can also speak to your vet about treatments that kill a tick once it starts feeding.
Prompt removal of ticks from your skin will help prevent infection, since transmission of the Lyme disease agent usually requires the tick to be attached for more than 2-3 days. Using fine-tipped tweezers or a tick removal tool, carefully grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible. Pull it straight out, gently but firmly. Don’t squeeze the tick as it may cause the Lyme disease agent to be accidentally introduced into your body. Thoroughly cleanse the bite site with rubbing alcohol and/or soap and water. After the tick has been removed, place it in a screw-top bottle (like a pill vial), and take it to your doctor or local health unit.
The first sign of infection is often a circular rash, which begins at the site of the tick bite after three days or up to one month later. Other symptoms may include fatigue, chills, fever, headache, and muscle and joint pain. If untreated, the disease can move a second and third stage where symptoms such as fatigue and pain can become severe. It is critical that you seek medical care early. Prophylactic antibiotics have been shown to significantly prevent Lyme disease when taken early. Have a great summer, don’t get “ticked” off and take care of yourselves and each other.