By Connor Lynch
Rates of Lyme disease in Ontario west of Toronto are extremely low even though Ontario is considered a hot spot for ticks that carry the disease.
Of the 917 new cases of Lyme disease in Canada in 2015, 323 of those cases were in Ontario. Most cases were in Eastern Ontario.
Farmers Forum reached out to the five Health Units with hot spots for Lyme disease west of Toronto Ontario and found extremely low rates of Lyme disease. Public Health Ontario calls a hot spot a 20-kilometre radius around the location where a blacklegged tick was found.
The Niagara Regional health unit went from fewer than five cases of Lyme disease in 2008, up to 15 this year to date.
The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit rarely sees Lyme disease. There was only one new case of Lyme disease in 2015, the most current reporting year.
The Chatham-Kent Health Unit saw three new cases in 2017, though manager Rosemarie Arndt told Farmers Forum that those cases were treated by family doctors, who might not be reporting all cases. Cases in the region are confined to Rondeau Provincial Park, in southeastern Chatham-Kent, extending into Lake Erie, said Arndt. Ticks are endemic to the park.
Lambton Public Health had no cases of Lyme as recently as 2014, and has only had one new case so far this year.
The Windsor-Essex Health Unit has only had three cases of Lyme disease this year to date. In one of those cases, someone picked up Lyme disease while in Europe. 2015 was the worst year in the last 10 with six cases.
Eastern Ontario, however, has had much bigger problems. Ottawa saw its cases of Lyme diseases hit 168 by Nov. 15, up from 74 over all of last year. Most of them occurred in rural areas.
Lyme disease is caused by the blacklegged tick, a very small spider-like bug and its population is increasing. But worse is that the proportion of ticks found carrying the disease has increased as well, Ottawa’s associate medical officer of health, Dr. Monir Taha said. Some areas in Connecticut and Maine, which have had Lyme disease for quite some time, see rates as high as 50 per cent of ticks carrying the illness, Taha said.
Symptoms of the disease can vary. Most commonly, people get flu-like symptoms within days of being bitten by a tick, or a bull’s-eye rash (a large red rash surrounded by a ring rash). The disease is curable, and long-term damage can be prevented if the disease is caught early. A first dose of antibiotics is best administered within 72 hours of removing the tick to prevent the disease. Long-term damage can be severe and include long-term exhaustion and paralysis.
Here are a few tips from Lyme Ontario if you find a tick on yourself.
• While health officials suggest going to a doctor to have a tick removed to prevent it from infecting the blood system, a doctor’s office can be a long way to go. Use fine-pointed tweezers to grab the head as blunt tweezers can crush the body and leave the head under the skin. By simply pulling on the body, the tick will vomit the contents of its stomach and infect the carrier.
• You can buy a $16 (shipping included) tick kit (includes three styles of tick removers depending on whether the tick is on an arm or in the ear or on a pet) by ordering online from the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation. Expect delivery in about three weeks.
• Once the tick has been removed, apply an antiseptic to your skin and wash your hands. You can also buy an antibiotic at a pharmacy that can be applied to the affected area. If the disease is caught quickly and a full, three-week course of antibiotics is applied, your “chances are excellent of not having to ever worry about it,” said the Lyme disease foundation president Jim Wilson. Have the tick tested for Lyme disease by calling your local health unit or contact the Lyme Disease Foundation, Wilson said.
Peak season for ticks: Late-April to July
Ticks will hibernate under bark, leaves and cracks in the earth.
Ticks become physically active at temperatures of -4 C and above.
If a tick gets warmed up under a jacket or gets into your house, it will become active within minutes.
At this time of year, those most at risk include: Farmers, loggers, hunters and treefellers.
Ticks can easily survive a Canadian winter.
As soon as a tick population establishes itself, the risk of encountering a tick is high.
Ticks migrate on birds, most often small song birds such as robins and finches.