Lyme DiseaseOne Tiny Tick Can Ruin Your Summer Due to the unseasonably warm weather we have had last winter, Ixodes Scapularis (also known as the tick that carries Lyme Disease) has moved further north from the United States and is now flourishing in some of the most populated areas of Canada. The rapid spread of the black-legged tick means a certain rise in the risk of Lyme Disease, a serious bacterial illness that, if left untreated, can impact the nervous system and the heart Black legged ticks are arachnids (related to spiders and scorpions) with extremely tiny hard oval bodies in shades of brown and short legs. They can be as small as a poppy seed but sometimes swell up to double their size when they feed on animals (deer and even household pets) and humans. Deer ticks have a two-year life cycle. That is, it takes two years for one egg-adult-egg generation to evolve. Therefore, deer ticks can be found all year long, including wintertime. A tick bite is required to transmit the disease because the bacterium is injected into the skin via tick saliva as the tick sucks blood. The infection is therefore not transmitted from pet to pet nor from pet to owner only via an infected tick bite, and not all ticks are infected with Borrelia. If the tick is not removed properly you may force the infection into your skin. Climate Change Ticks initially traveled up here from the United States on the skin of deer and migratory birds. The first populations began to grow along the border, from Nova Scotia to southern Manitoba. Warmer temperatures have caused this northerly migration and the most recent Canadian study done in 2015 showed that 18 per cent of inhabited parts of eastern Canada had ticks. It is estimated that the percentage will rise to 80 per cent by 2020. There is also a west coast version of the tick (Ixodes pacificus) making its way into British Columbia. How Ticks Make Us Sick Ticks transfer a bacteria called borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease. Lyme disease has been with us for a long time before even the birth of Christ. Just recently a group of Italian doctors reported finding evidence of Lyme disease in a blood sample of a 5000 year old “iceman” (a human body preserved in ice until now). There are 30,000 cases of Lyme disease reported every year in the United States but in Canada we have only had 150 cases reported since 2009. This may be because the tick population was very low here in Canada or that many doctors were unaware of the distinctive bull’s-eye rash accompanied by fly symptoms and misdiagnosed it as something else. Also if Lyme disease is not treated immediately it usually progresses to joint pain, fatigue, Bell’s palsy, meningitis or even heart palpitations. A tick has to be attached for at least 24 hours to spread the bacteria. If it is diagnosed correctly, a 7 to 10 day course of antibiotics such as doxycycline or amoxicillin will completely cure the infection. The risk of contracting Lyme disease is higher in the late spring and summer when ticks “wake up” from their winter dormancy and camping and hiking make us more likely to come in contact with them. Emergency Treatment for a Tick Bite If you see the tick, do not yank it off your body. Public Health recommends using tweezers to gently pull the tick away at the closest part of the skin. If it’s possible that the tick has been attached to you for more than 24 hours, and especially if you are in an area with a reported incidence of Lyme disease, get to your doctor as soon as possible and get some antibiotics. It can be diagnosed clinically (without a lab test) and conclusively if the bulls-eye rash appears so take a picture and email it to your doctor if necessary and he can then call in a prescription to the nearest pharmacy. Even if you are wrong and it was not a tick, a week’s supply of antibiotics will not hurt you but if you are right, then they can save you an awful lot of grief. Proper Diagnosis The sooner you get treated the better the outcome, but since this is a relatively new disease in Canada, most physicians are not familiar with the symptoms. Unfortunately the symptoms of Lyme disease are very general and could fit a multitude of illnesses. If there is no evidence of a bite or any other symptoms you may start feeling ill weeks later and will definitely be misdiagnosed. There is a test for Lyme disease but it is not perfect and false positives and negatives are quite common. Some Canadians have even traveled across the border to the United States because they have more accurate blood tests to determine the presence of Lyme disease. A small minority of people still have debilitating symptoms even after antibiotic treatment and they may need another course of antibiotics or to even take antibiotics for extended periods of time. However, because the symptoms are so general once the rash has gone away, there is a great deal of controversy about using antibiotics or even assuming that a recurrence is still Lyme disease and not something else. Prevention Like nearly all diseases, prevention is always your best option. This means cutting long grass and covering as much skin as possible when hiking along walking trails in wooded area. Do not wear sandals which leave the skin on your feet exposed. Even cutting your grass regularly to keep the grasses short and always checking your pets for ticks they may bring into the house. Besides checking yourself, check the children for these tiny bugs which could be anywhere on their little bodies, even behind the knees. Do not let the presence of these ticks scare you into an indoor summer. Get out there and enjoy the beautiful weather and beautiful walking trails and just be cautious and aware. This is a very curable disease if caught early so get out there and enjoy.