Blacklegged ticks are on the march.
This species of tick, which sometimes carry the germ that causes Lyme disease, are now found in areas of eastern Ontario where they didn’t exist a recently as six years ago, according to Public Health Ontario.
Experts say as temperatures continue to warm the tick population spreads, and as result, so do the reports of Lyme disease. If left untreated with antibiotics soon after infection, the disease can result in patients suffering neurologic problems and arthritis.
Lyme disease was unknown in most of Canada up until the 1980s. Since then, it has become endemic in parts of southern and southeastern Quebec, southern and eastern Ontario, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, as well as much of southern British Columbia.
Nina Jain-Sheehan, a senior program consultant at Public Health Ontario, told the Toronto Star Thursday that “with the warming weather we do expect to see those areas (of Ontario) expanding and I am talking about an area in eastern Ontario along the St. Lawrence River.”
Ticks can’t just jump onto a person; they simply wait on a leaf or blade of grass for a host to brush by. They are most common between May and September. Health Canada has estimated that about 10 per cent of blacklegged ticks carry the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.
Locations with established blacklegged tick populations infected with the Lyme disease agent include Long Point Provincial Park, Turkey Point Provincial Park, Rondeau Provincial Park, Point Pelee National Park, Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area, Wainfleet Bog Conservation Area, and in the St. Lawrence Islands National Park area.
Jain-Sheehan noted that the Public Health Agency of Canada has recently been done modelling projections and “they do expect that that range is going to be expanding in the coming decade with climate warming.”
Ontario typically reports about 100 cases of Lyme disease a year. These are physician and laboratory confirmed cases, with an untold number of cases going unreported.
“But you have to remember that a tick has to be attached to you for about 24 to 48 hours before it can even transmit the bacteria to you,” Jain Sheehan said, adding that most often they are dislodged by simply taking a shower.
A person can show symptoms of Lyme disease in three to 30 days.
Blacklegged ticks, which have a two-year lifespan, have three feeding stages: larvae, nymph and adult. When a young insect feeds on infected animals — such as mice, squirrels and birds — it picks up a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi that lives in the tick’s gut.
“I do field surveillance, I’m used to them, but I still hate them. I can’t stand them,” Jain-Sheehan said.
The best way to get rid of an embedded tick is by using tweezers. If that doesn’t work, the person should see a physician, she said.