Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is transmitted by ticks, small insects that attach themselves to a host and suck blood for food. The first sign of infection is often a rash that begins approximately 1 week after exposure. As it progresses, it may include the following symptoms: fatigue, confusion, drowsiness, headache, fever, numbness or tingling, joint pain, partial paralysis and weakness. If not treated promptly, symptoms can last for weeks or even years.
Ticks are generally active April to September and can be found in wooded areas across Canada. The risk of Lyme disease is increasing. According to a Health Canada website, the number of cases of Lyme disease increased from 144 in 2009 to 682 in 2013, an increase of nearly 500%! In Ontario, ticks carrying Lyme disease have been found in provincial and national parks and other wildlife areas.
You can prevent tick exposure by dressing appropriately before heading into wooded areas. You should wear long sleeves and pants, tuck your pant cuffs into your socks and wear closed toe shoes. Using an insect repellent containing DEET is also a good idea. When you return home, be sure to undress carefully in case a tick has hitched a ride in the folds of your clothing. Taking a shower within 2 hours of spending time in wooded areas will wash away any loose ticks. You should also do a full body check for ticks. A tick may attach itself anywhere on the body, but they prefer tight spots and isolated areas. Be sure to check behind the ears, within skin folds, armpits and buttocks. Doing your ‘tick check’ with a partner will be more effective than checking all by yourself. Be sure to check your pets too.
Ticks usually have to be attached for 24 hours or more to transmit an infection, so finding it and removing it may be all you need to prevent Lyme disease. If you find a tick, grab it gently with fine point tweezers and slowly pull it straight out of the skin. Try not to squeeze the body. If you can, save the tick in case it needs to be tested. Wash the area with soap and water and then apply an antiseptic medication. If you begin to develop symptoms of Lyme disease like a rash, fever, fatigue or joint pain, see your doctor. Antibiotics are usually very effective in treating Lyme disease if started early.
Spending time in the outdoors can be great for your health, both mind and body, but bringing home a hitch hiker can ruin your summer. Plan ahead and be careful out there.