More ticks being tested for Lyme disease as weather warms
While there haven’t been any reported cases of Lyme disease locally so far this year, the topic has been a hot one at public health units.
In Brantford and Brant County, there has been a significant increase in the number of ticks brought into the Brant County Health Unit for analysis.
“Only one tick, out of well over a hundred submitted, has been confirmed as black-legged tick – which is the one we’re concerned about,” Ruth Gratton, the area’s manager of infectious disease, said in an interview.
Black-legged tick is the only breed known to spread Lyme disease, although even some of them are not infected.
The ticks generally live around the north shores of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, but move inland by attaching themselves to migratory birds.
When they become separated from the birds, they may look to attach themselves to humans as a new feeding source.
“Often you don’t even know that you have been bitten,” Gratton said, adding that sometimes ticks can spend several days on a human before they are noticed.
It can take up to a month from the bite for Lyme symptoms to appear.
Common symptoms can include a mild rash, joint pain, fatigue, muscle aches and a slight fever.
If not treated with antibiotics, the disease can progress and more severe neurological symptoms may develop.
“If symptoms do develop, we send them along to their doctor for further consultation,” said Brenda Miller, the manager of infection control at Region of Waterloo Public Health.
In addition to the 100 ticks tested from Brantford and Brant County, 77 have been sent for analysis from Waterloo Region.
So why are so many ticks being taken in for testing?
Gratton thinks it’s due to increased levels of public awareness about Lyme disease.
“Almost every week, sometimes every day, there’s information … about Lyme disease and about ticks in general,” she said.
To lessen the risk of tick bites, authorities recommend staying away from long grass, using insect repellent and limiting the amount of skin exposed.
Keeping a close eye on accessories can help too.
“If you’ve got a backpack with you … be aware of where you put that backpack. Try and keep it out of a grassy area,” Miller said.
Last year, the Brant County Health Unit dealt with three reported cases of Lyme disease, up from an average of one over the previous three years.
Waterloo Region typically averages about three cases per year.