Ticks spreading through Ontario, raising fears of Lyme disease
Signs of deer ticks are sprouting up on the shore of Lake Erie – literally.
At Turkey Point Provincial Park, notices have been installed to warn campers and beachgoers that the ticks, which can transmit Lyme disease, call the area home.
“The ticks have established themselves in this area. Unfortunately, it’s become endemic for Lyme disease,” says Kelsey Fess, a public health inspector with the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit.
It’s the same story at Long Point, where deer ticks were first spotted in Ontario in the mid-1990s.
Andrew Peregrine, a parasitology professor at the University of Guelph, says researchers have seen significant changes in the prevalence of ticks across the province over the past five years.
Most ticks have been seen in Kingston and points further east, while areas around Waterloo Region and London don’t yet seem to be common homes for deer ticks.
That’s hardly the case in Long Point, where Peregrine estimates that 60 per cent of the deer tick population is infected with Lyme disease.
Fess says simple ways to protect oneself against Lyme disease include sticking to main paths and dressing in such a way to keep most of the body covered, although she admits that many will find the latter tip a tough one to abide by during warm weather.
Bug repellant can help keep the ticks at bay, she says, but after any significant time in the wilderness, it’s best to strip down and have someone search for signs of the insects.
“They’re going to go in places that are not easy for you … to find on your own,” she says.
“They’re going to go behind your ears, under your armpits, sometimes on the back, butt cheeks and the groin area. Be mindful of those locations, and be mindful of the fact that ticks are very small.”
Fess calls deer ticks “slow feeders”, meaning they need to spend several hours on a human body before they can transmit Lyme disease.
“If you find a tick and you remove it, chances are you’re going to eliminate the risk,” she says.
That’s what Dave Pond does.
The Port Dover resident travels to Turkey Point multiple times each week for mountain biking excursions.
He generally sticks to main trails, where he may come in contact with one or two ticks a year.
So far this year, he says, he’s already picked up three ticks while biking.
“If you check yourself on a regular basis … there’s not a problem,” he says.
Should ticks be found on the body, experts recommend preserving them and presenting them to local health authorities.
“If you ever pull ticks off either yourself or your pets … take them in (and) make sure they’re identified,” says Peregrine.
No human cases of Lyme disease have surfaced in Norfolk-Haldimand thus far in 2014, but Fess says the region generally averages three cases per year.