Written by Veronika Bradley, Editor for Children’s Health and Safety Association – May 25, 2016 and Republished by Diligencia Investigative Reporting – April 2019
There are widespread tick infestations in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and southern British Columbia. Researchers estimate that Canada could receive ten to twenty thousand Lyme disease cases a year if this growth rate continues.
The tick is so tiny it is difficult to find and once detected, the diagnosis is fraught with medical complications and questionable treatments.
Many doctors are unfamiliar with the symptoms of Lyme disease leaving patients without proper diagnosis or treatment. Not every person has the trademark sign of a bull’s eye rash – in fact, some people have rashes that do not resemble a bull’s eye at all, and some people do not experience a rash of any kind.
Current blood screenings for antibodies are problematic in interpretation and well known for false positive and false negative results. Without proper treatment, Lyme disease can develop into a chronic condition sustained by debilitating muscle and joint pain (arthritis) heart problems, nerve damage, inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, and neurological disorders such as meningitis and Bell’s Palsy (facial paralysis).
When interpreting the blood test for Lyme disease, physicians and clinicians vary in medical opinion and treatment. Physicians who follow the CDC criteria when interpreting the blood test for Lyme disease will not put their patients on antibiotics for several months because long-term antibiotic treatment can cause adverse side effects as well as contribute to a risk of future drug-resistant bacteria.
Symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, headache, fatigue, body pains and some people experience rashes. Please scroll down to ‘Additional Information’ at the end of this article to view pictures of different kinds of rashes.
Tom Mather, Director of the University of Rhode Island’s Center for Vector-Borne Diseases stated that while Lyme disease is rarely fatal, the Powassan virus is fatal in 10% of cases and of the survivors, half will experience neurological complications, such as paralysis or cognitive problems.
“With Lyme disease, once you find the tick on you, you’ve got a day or so to remove it, before it can transmit the pathogen to you…but with Powassan virus, a tick can start transmitting the virus within 15 minutes,” said Dr. Richard S. Ostfeld, Disease Ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York.
Ticks feed on mammals such as mice, rodents and white-tailed deer.
“White-footed mice are the principal natural reservoirs for Lyme disease bacteria. Ticks that feed on mice are highly likely to become infected, making them capable of transmitting Lyme disease to people during their next blood meal,” says Dr. Ostfeld.
Health Officials at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that as many as 300,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with Lyme disease every year. The majority of cases have come from Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.
An article written by Sarah Yang entitled, “Study IDs key birds that host Lyme disease bacteria in California” was published in the Berkeley News in 2015. Research from the University of California, Berkeley, indicated that ticks carrying the bacterium that causes Lyme disease are populating Northern California’s birds. The American robin (pictured below), dark-eyed junco and golden-crowned sparrow, often found in the suburbs, host the Lyme disease bacteria.
“The role of birds in the maintenance of Lyme disease bacteria in California is poorly understood,” said study lead author Erica Newman, a UC Berkeley Ph.D. student in the Energy and Resources Group and the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management.
“This is the most extensive study of the role of birds in Lyme disease ecology in the western United States, and the first to consider the diversity of bird species, their behaviors and their habitats in identifying which birds are truly the most important as carriers,” stated Newman.
“One of the most surprising results of this study is that another species of Lyme disease spirochete closely related to, but distinct from Borrelia burgdorferi, was detected in birds for the first time anywhere in the world,” said study co-author Robert Lane, a medical entomologist and UC Berkeley Professor of the Graduate School and one of the leading experts on ticks and Lyme disease.
An additional study published by a team of scientists led by Taal Levi of Oregon State University and Richard Ostfeld of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies states that changing climate patterns are altering the life cycles of ticks by way of triggering transmission of the bacterium that causes Lyme disease in animals and humans.
Patient groups, researchers and policy experts recently attended a conference headed by the Public Health Agency of Canada to develop a better tracking system for identifying Lyme disease cases, promoting better diagnosis and treatment, and providing education for healthcare providers and the public.
Over 700 new cases of Lyme disease were reported to the Public Health Agency of Canada in 2015 compared to 128 in 2009.
The Federal Government cites climate change and land usage as leading factors for ticks spreading across Canada.
When walking in wooded areas wear long pants with the pant legs tucked into boots or socks so that ticks cannot crawl up your leg.
Wear long sleeved shirts that fit tightly at the wrist to keep ticks from getting to your bare skin.
Wear closed shoes like running shoes - no sandals.
Wear light-coloured clothing so that ticks can be seen more easily.
Walk in the centre of designated trails.
Insect repellents containing DEET (Diethyltoluamide) can effectively repel ticks.
Repellents can be applied to clothing as well as exposed skin but should not be applied to skin underneath clothing.
To maintain effectiveness, the repellent may need to be repeated more frequently than required for mosquito or black flies. We highly recommend that you follow the directions on the label.
Perform a careful self-inspection on yourself, your family members and pets for attached ticks under your arms and in and around your ears, in the belly button area, back of your knees and around the waist, when leaving a wooded area.
A daily total-body inspection and prompt removal of attached ticks (within 36 hours) can reduce the transmission of the bacterium Borrelia Burgdorferi from infected ticks. Blacklegged ticks are very small, particularly during the nymph stage, so look carefully.
Hang your clothes outside when returning home from the great outdoors.
Make a careful inspection under your arms, in and around your ears, in the belly button, back of your knees and around your waist.
Remove attached ticks using tweezers. Grasp the tick's head and mouthparts as close to the skin as possible and pull slowly until the tick is removed. Do not twist or rotate the tick and try not to squash or crush the tick during removal.
After removing a tick, wash the bite site with soap and water or disinfect it with alcohol or household antiseptic.
Place the tick in an empty pill vial or zip-lock bag and write the date of the tick bite on the container.
Contact a doctor immediately if you develop symptoms of Lyme disease, especially when you have been in an area where blacklegged ticks are prevalent. If you have saved the tick, take it with you to the doctor's office.
Precautions to Reduce Tick Habitats near Your Home
Ticks are primarily found in densely wooded areas and the unmaintained transitional edge habitat between woodlands and open areas. Fewer ticks are found in ornamental vegetation and lawn areas. Within the lawn, most of the ticks are located within 3 metres of the lawn perimeter particularly along woodlands, stone walls, or ornamental plantings.
- Mow the grass regularly.
- Remove leaf litter, brush and weeds at the edge of the lawn.
- Restrict the use of groundcover in areas frequented by the family or pets.
- Remove brush and leaves around stonewalls and woodpiles.
- Discourage rodent activity by sealing stone walls and small openings around the home.
- Move firewood piles and bird feeders away from your house.
- Keep dogs and cats out of the woods.
- Move children’s swing sets and sand boxes away from the woodland edge and place them on a woodchip or mulch foundation.
- Trim tree branches and shrubs around the lawn edge to allow more sunlight.
- Adopt hard landscape and xeriscape landscape practices.
- Create a 3-meter or wider woodchip, mulch, and gravel border between lawn and woods, or stone walls.
- Consider decking, tile, gravel and border or container plantings on areas nearest the house or frequently travelled.
- Widen woodland trails.
- Use plantings that do not attract deer or exclude deer by fencing.
- Consider a least-toxic pesticide application as a targeted barrier treatment.
'Precautions' listed above are courtesy of Public Health Agency of Canada.
Interesting Facts about Ticks
- Ticks can’t jump or fly – they climb.
- Ticks are arachnids. They are more closely related to spiders and scorpions than insects.
- Ticks have four life stages: egg, larva (infant), nymph (immature) and adult (mature).
- There are about 850 species of ticks.
- Ticks feed on the blood of their host -- humans, birds, reptiles, and wild and domestic mammals.
- Ticks are not born with disease agents. They acquire disease agents during feeding and pass them along onto other animals during subsequent feedings.
- Dryers are more effective in killing ticks than washers.
For additional information, Diligencia Investigative Reporting recommends the following websites:
Tick that Carries Lyme disease is More Prevalent Now in Canada – highly detailed article on ticks that cause Lyme disease including:
- 1st, 2nd and 3rd stage symptoms
- diseases that can be passed on from ticks
- precautionary measures to prevent tick bites
- how to reduce tick habitats near your home
Ticks: Geographic Distribution – Center for Disease Control
Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies – Dr. Richard S. Ostfeld
Lyme Disease Rashes and the Look-alikes – photos of rashes from the CDC
Diligencia Investigative Reporting recommends the following videos: