Well the government health agencies are finally pulling their collective heads out of the sand and admitting that Lyme disease is real and a growing concern in North America. For a long time there was a denial that the disease even existed, then they made statements that it wasn’t a wide spread aid occurrence and downgraded the spread of the infected areas. Read more here. Even today the testing and treatment for lyme disease is inadequate based on the exposure and potential for contracting this disease in your own back yard.
In Ontario, we pride ourselves on the abundance of wood lots and nature, on the greenery and greenness of our province. The Government and tourism ministries both provincial and federal promote the great out doors here in Canada. Unfortunately there is very little education or advise coming from the government ministries or the medical association on lyme disease, either for preventative measures or what to do if you contract it. This is unfortunate for those who contracted lyme disease and have to suffered with it due to the organizational denials by the agencies and people that many in society look to and trust for advice.
Once more what is lyme disease?
Lyme disease quite simply is a borreliosis infection that is spread to humans through tick bites. When the infected tick bites a human host, the borrelia bacteria spreads to the human. There are three stages to the disease, the first, stage 1 is the initial bite and early infection, stage 2 follows a day or few days after when the infection spreads into the host human, and stage 3 is the chronic lyme stage which can occur in only a few days from the initial bite. Due to the speed that this infection can spread, it is important to get treatment for it quickly. You will know if a tick has bitten you as the tick will most likely, but not always still be embedded in your flesh.
If you find an unattached tick on your body remove it quickly and kill it, if it is imbedded in your skin, gently but firmly with tweezers grip it as close to your skin as possible and remove it slowly so as not to squish it or break it while it is imbedded in you. In all cases kill the tick immediately and if you have been bitten, place the dead tick in a baggy so it can be tested. Do not take a chance that it may or may not have given you lyme disease, contact one of the organizations at the bottom of this article, for an informed decision on how to go about securing your health. Make an appointment with your doctor and insist on a lyme test. Get proper and immediate treatment.
If you have been bitten by a lyme infected tick, you will notice in addition to a the sore spot of the bite, that a swelling and rash, typically a “bull’s-eye” reddish rash will appear, if so do not delay a moment longer, seek treatment. Once the infection starts to spread you may begin to show signs of other symptoms of Lyme disease, these have often been misdiagnosed as the flu as they resemble very closely flu like symptoms. If you have flu-like symptoms and an inflamed bite even if you did not find any imbedded ticks, you need to see a doctor right away and inform them that you were exposed to and found ticks on your body. Early treatment of several antibiotics are highly effective in killing the bacteria when taken during the first few days of infection. I can not stress this more, having seen the result personally of misdiagnosed lyme disease that was not treated soon enough.
If Lyme disease is not treated promptly, the bacteria will move into your muscles, nerves, joints, and brain. The longer the delay in treatment the more serious the complications from the infection become. Late stage Lyme disease is debilitating, causing severe arthritis, mental confusion, numbness of the arms and legs, paralysis, loss of the use of limbs and serious heart problems. Lyme disease is most successfully treated in stage 1, this is why it is imperative that you seek treatment as soon as possible.
Get to know the tick
Most people think of ticks as being an insect like the mosquito, but ticks are not insects, they are arthropods. Arthropods are closely related to spiders, and yes spiders also are not insects. Like spiders, adult ticks have 8 legs while insects have 6 legs. The important fact to be aware of for ticks is that they are ectoparasites, this means that they require a host or hosts to feed on in order to survive and reproduce. This is what makes you so attractive to a tick, they need to feed on you. This need to feed on blood is what is the cause of the spread of the lyme disease, as ticks feed on all warm blooded animals human included and as such they pick up bacteria, one of which is the bacteria that causes lyme disease. When they bite you, you become infected.
It is important to check and know the areas that ticks thrive in, and what the environment commonly looks like. Ticks thrive in areas like grassy fields, the woods, gardens, beaches and nature walks and parks. Deep wooded areas that have deer and other warm blooded animals are very susceptible to ticks and therefore lyme infectiion. As the ticks have spread to larger areas, it is not uncommon that ticks are being found in back yards of houses even within cities.
Safety in your home and back yard
There are steps that you can take to make your home and back yard a safer place with regards to fleas and ticks. The discussion that follows are some of the things that you can do to reduce your chances of ticks in your environment as well as having ticks get on you.
Insecticide treated clothing
There is a marketing push with many “tick experts” suggesting that we wear tick repellant clothing while in any are that may possibly harbour ticks. These clothing are permeated typically with the chemical permethrin and as research shows, does offer effecting protection from ticks. The question is one of necessity and risks, you see permethrin is an insecticide, it is a toxic chemical.
Permethrin is labeled to repel, knockdown, and kill ticks and many other arthropod, including, mosquitoes, sand flies, and fleas. Permethrin is a common component of insect repellants on the market. Permethrin is a neurotoxin insecticide and not only kills ticks, it also kills off beneficial insects such as bees. It can also kill birds, fish, and cats if they come in contact with it and as such should never be sprayed into the environment. Dogs and other pets can if exposed to it become very ill and even die depending on level of exposure and if ingested.
As I said it really is a matter of necessity and risk, especially if you are in tick infested or potentially tick infested areas for extended periods of time then it may be wise to protect your self by applying this chemical to the outside of your clothing, especially shoes and stockings and lower pants legs.
Alternatives to toxic insecticides
But why even go the toxic chemical route? There are a number of effective, natural insect repellents on the market. Typically these natural repellents will need to be applied more frequently than the toxic chemical laden ones, but they do not carry potential health risks. While being labelled natural, it is still wise to read ingredients and be safe, look for repellents made from certain essential oils such as citronella, teatree, pennyroyal, certain cedars, and eucalyptus, but be aware that these are volatile oils that can trigger allergic reactions in some people if applied to the skin directly.
Another product that is being suggested as a natural product though it is man made, is picaridin. Picaridin is a chemical derived from pepper and has been shown to be one of the most effective, more natural ingredient to repel ticks, fleas, mosquitos, and other insects without negative health effects to humans or pets and most animals.
One last ingredient considered to be safe as an insect repellent is IR3535. IR3535 has been used as an insect repellent in Europe for 20 years with no substantial adverse effects. Toxicity tests show that the IR3535 is not harmful when ingested, inhaled, or used on skin.
Note that all these natural products should also be applied to the outside layer of clothing, and direct contact to the skin should be avoided or limited to light and short duration. Proper clothing for outdoors activities that may bring you into contact with ticks is your best line of defence is to dress properly. When you venture into areas where ticks might be waiting, dress properly for theses occasion, dress defensively. Wear a hat and light-coloured clothing (you can see ticks better on light colours) and tuck your shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks. Remember this is not a fashion show, you are dressing to protect yourself from ticks and other biting insects. If you decide to use a product for protection as well, then apply the product to the outer layer of your clothing not to your skin.
Other things to do when and after you have been outdoors in areas that may be infested with ticks are; have a lint roller or sticky tape available to remove any unattached ticks on your clothing and body. Use tweezers to remove any ticks that have attached to your skin. When you go back indoors from areas that may be infested by ticks, it is wise to remove your clothing and place in a clothes dryer, the heat will kill any ticks. Inspect your body for ticks. Note this is when you have been in an area that ticks live in.
Make your home and yard a safe zone
Most of the things you can do to protect yourself, your yard and home are inexpensive or free. The most important are not to make your yard or home attractive to ticks. Things to do around the yard include the following:
- Keep your yard tidy by removing accumulations of leaves, branches and other debris, which create homes and hiding places for ticks and or their hosts.
- Install 3-foot wide gravel or wood chip barriers along the edges of stone walls, ornamental gardens and woodlot perimeters. Use of a cedar chip is a natural defence against ticks.
- Open up areas that are shaded to direct sunlight as much as possible as ticks do not like the sun.
- In shaded areas it is even more important to keep these areas tidy and free of long grass and debris
- Keep lawns cut short to reduce the humid environment that ticks thrive in.
- Make sure that play areas and entertaining / recreational areas are least 10 feet away from wooded edges if possible and place then on patio or non grass areas.
- Spray your yard , especially those areas that are more susceptible to ticks with a natural non toxic spray. One very effective spray is a garlic based spray that will repel ticks from the area. This product is also safe on bees and other life forms.
- Dress appropriately for your outdoors situation and location, light coloured cloths are best.
- Be diligent in your inspection of your yard, home and body
- Have removal tools at the ready for removing ticks from your clothing and body. A sticky roller or pad used to remove link, will also remove unattached ticks from your body and clothing. Use tweezers or special tools to remove the ticks that are imbedded in your skin. Safe removal techniques.
- If ticks are in your area, it is a good practice at end of day to toss the clothes you wore outside in the clothes dry where the heat will kill any ticks.
There used to be a time that I would check maps for listed tick infestation areas, but in North America, Canada and the USA, ticks have spread across the country. Some have blamed climate for the quick spread and growth of tick infestation across the country, with the exception of the more northern areas. Over the last decade tick infestation has spread significantly to most areas of North America. There are of course areas that are more affected by tick than others and you should check on the area you live in. For Toronto and southern Ontario, this is a high risk area for ticks and lyme infections.
Organizations to turn to:
USA – TBDA: http://tbdalliance.org
USA – Lyme Disease Association:http://www.lymediseaseassociation.org
Canada – CanLyme: http://canlyme.com for support: http://canlyme.com/living-with-lyme/get-support/
Canada – Lyme Ontario: http://lymeontario.com
It is recommended that you submit the tick to your local public health unit or your doctor. The tick will be identified and only blacklegged ticks will be further tested for Lyme disease.
In southern Ontario, ticks are accepted at the following York Region Community and Health Services office locations:
4261 Highway 7 East Suite B6-9 Unionville, ON
50 High Tech Road 2nd floor Richmond Hill, ON
465 Davis Drive, Suite 240 Newmarket, ON