Researchers are warning Canadians to practice caution as the number of ticks that can carry Lyme disease are expected to be higher than ever across most of the country.
According to the Toronto Star, Canada has seen a steep rise in reported Lyme disease cases in recent years — and numbers are expected to continue climbing as climate change causes parts of the country to become warmer, and ticks move further north.
In a recent interview with The Canadian Press, Vett Lloyd, a researcher and director of the Lloyd Tick Lab at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick says this year's tick season will likely be worse than 2021.
“As the winters are getting milder and shorter, the ticks are surviving better, and they have more time to feed and have a tick romance,” Lloyd told The Canadian Press. “Once a female tick finds a male and food, she can produce for roughly 3,000 eggs. When this starts happening, (the population) explodes very quickly.”
According to Lloyd, ticks are most active between April and June before peaking again in September through November.
While there are multiple tick-borne illnesses, the most common is Lyme disease. Between 2020 and 2021 the number of reported Lyme disease cases increased by 150 per cent — however that number could be even higher, since some cases may be "undetected" or "unreported" to the federal government.
"It's a bad year for ticks," Lloyd said, adding that Ontario is second to Nova Scotia as the province with the highest ratio of ticks to people.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is an infection caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, spread through bites from an infected tick.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ticks can attach themselves to any part of the body but are often found in the groin, armpits and scalp and must typically be attached to the body for 36 to 48 hours before Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted.
What are symptoms of Lyme disease?
Lyme disease symptoms can often be mistaken for the flu. Within the first three to 30 days after a tick bite, a person can experience fever, chills, headache, swollen lymph nodes, muscle aches and fatigue.
A rash (Erythema migrans) at the site of the tick bite can occur in about 70 to 80 per cent of infections, on average a week after infection. The rash can grow up to 12 inches in size and may feel warm or hot to the touch.
Days to months after infection, symptoms can progress to include a severe headache, neck stiffness, additional rashes may develop on other areas of the body.
Facial palsy, arthritis, nerve pain, dizziness, heart palpitations, shooting pains or tingling in the hands or feet as well as problem with short-term memory.
Why are tick bites bad, and what to do if you’ve been bitten by a tick
If you’ve been bitten by a tick, the Mayo Clinic suggests removing the tick with fine-tipped tweezers, and seal the tick in a container and keep in the freezer. If you develop symptoms within a few days, bring the tick with you to your doctor.
Wash your hands and the bite site with warm water, soap or rubbing alcohol.
Contact your doctor if you are unable to remove the tick as soon as possible, if a rash appears and gets bigger or the bite site gets infected.
How do you prevent tick bites?
While there is no human vaccine against Lyme disease, the best form of protection from Lyme disease is to prevent tick bites.
Before going outdoors, be sure to spray yourself and clothing with a bug repellent that contains DEET. You can also find U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved insect repellent to suit your needs. If you’re an avid camper or hiker, you can treat your clothing and gear with products that contain 0.5% permethrin that will last for several washings to ensure your protection.
Be sure to examine yourself thoroughly for ticks around your hairline, ears, armpits, groin, belly button and the back of your legs for ticks once you return indoors. The CDC suggests showering to help wash off potentially unattached ticks that you may not have seen. Examine your clothes and if possible, put them in the dryer for at least ten minutes to kill any ticks that may have made their way indoors.
Ticks often migrate through animals, meaning your pet could be a carrier or ticks into your home. Aside from asking your vet about a suitable tick prevention product, be sure to check your pet around the ears, eyelids, tail, collar and under their legs for ticks.
Reduce ticks in your backyard
While many people used to believe you had to travel into a wooded area to come across ticks, many ticks are living right in their own backyard.
You can help reduce the possibility of ticks by ensuring that your lawn and property is not a suitable environment for ticks. Make sure your lawn is frequently mowed, trees and bushes trimmed to allow for sunlight (which ticks don’t like) and remove any weeds or brush from your yard. Remove any excess furniture and keep swing-sets and garbage away from wooded areas.
Additionally, you can create a barrier around your property of wooden chips or gravel to restrict tick movement and migration into the rest of your lawn.