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Health Page: Don’t let ticks tick you off!

Jun 5, 2018 | Featured

Amandeep Dhaliwal, University of Toronto, for NP-UN, Toronto.

Summer is here for all to enjoy. Finally, the perfect weather for canoeing, camping and hiking has set in. But the warm weather also brings out thousands of pests. Ticks are arachnids that are increasing in prevalence in Ontario due to climate change. The best way to protect yourself from ticks is being well-educated regarding what ticks are, their appearance, habitat, and how to treat/prevent tick bites.

What are ticks?

Ticks are parasitic arachnoids, which means they feed on humans and animals. Some ticks contain bacteria that leads to the transmission of Lyme disease upon feeding. Not all ticks harbor the bacteria, so infestation with ticks does not necessarily mean transmission of Lyme disease.

What do ticks look like?

Ticks in their immature phase have a flattened oval or tear shaped body with 6 legs, but after feeding they have a rounded body with 8 legs. They do not have wings or antennae.

When and where are ticks found?

Ticks are most active in spring and summer, but they can be found whenever the temperature is above freezing.

Ticks are commonly found in wooded or bushy areas that have abundance of leaves or tall grass. Ticks are less likely to be found on mowed lawns, sports fields or pavement.

Public Health Ontario has mapped out areas in Ontario that are estimated to have high prevalence of ticks. Visit the Public Health Ontario website online to see if you are in areas of high risk.

Why are ticks a concern?

Ticks harboring bacteria can spread Lyme disease. In the past few years the number of Lyme disease cases reported by all provinces increased from 144 in 2009 to 992 in 2016.

Transmission occurs when a tick has been attached to a person or animal for at least 24 hours. Symptoms may start three days to one month after a tick bite. Often patients present with a single skin lesion that appears as circular rash that looks like a bulls-eye.

Other symptoms include fever and chills, headache, stiff neck, muscle and joint pain and fatigue. When left untreated, Lyme disease can lead to heart and nervous system complications.

What to do if you discover a tick on your body?

Do not suffocate the tick with Vaseline or oil. It is important to remove the tick from the body as soon as possible.

The best technique to remove a tick is to use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Pull the tick straight out, gently but firmly making sure to remove the entire tick (including the head). Do not squeeze the body of the tick as that will release the contents of the tick into the body.

After removing the tick, place it in a secure container as your healthcare practitioner may send the tick into lab for testing. Then thoroughly clean the bite site with rubbing alcohol and/or soap and water.

If you have symptoms, or feel unwell after a tick bite contact a health care professional.

How is Lyme disease treated?

Diagnosis of Lyme disease is primarily based upon symptoms and treatment includes a course of antibiotics.

How to protect yourself against ticks?

Though there is no vaccine to protect yourself against Lyme disease, there are ways to protect yourself from ticks.

Stay on the path: Avoid bushes and grassy areas by staying on paved trails

  • Cover up: Conceal skin as much as possible. Prevent ticks from reaching skin by tucking your shirt into your pants and pants into socks. Wear light coloured clothing as it makes ticks more visible.
  • Repellent: Use an insect repellent that contains DEET or icardin.
  • Check: Always check your body for ticks, pay close attention to areas with thin skin such as scalp, ankles, armpits, groin, navel, behind ears and knees. Don’t forget to check your pets as well.
  • Wash: Take a shower or bath after being outdoors. Wash clothes immediately using the dryer for at least 60 minutes to kill any tick.

Don`t let ticks catch you by surprise. Ensure you and your loved ones are using the information presented above to have a safe tick free summer!

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