What is Lyme disease and how to prevent it?
As warmer weather begins to draw us outside, you should be aware of the risk of tick bites. While it’s smart to be vigilant against ticks year-round, I advise to take extra precautions in warmer months (April through September) when ticks are most active. Ticks feed on blood. Immature ticks – so small in the larval stage that they can barely be seen – up to nymphs and adults, all need blood to fuel them to their next life phase. And if they’ve drawn blood from an infected source before biting a human, they can spread Lyme disease.
While Lyme is an illness caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, ticks may also carry other infections that may be transmitted with the bite including Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesia and Bartonella. Borrelia burgdorferi has been reported in parts of Europe, Asia, Australia, and throughout much of North America.
Lyme disease in humans can have serious symptoms and complications if left untreated. These include chills, bulls eye rash (fact buster: only 30% of patient’s get this), fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, neurological and cardiac manifestations.
Fortunately, there are several actions you can take to prevent tick bites and reduce your risk of tick-borne disease.
Protect Yourself from Tick Bites
Know where ticks thrive. Ticks live in moist, humid environments, particularly near wooded or grassy areas. On trails, even around the house, ticks hang on the ends of taller grass waiting to come in contact with their next host. Always walk in the center of trails to avoid the side grass.
Cover up! Wear light colored clothes (to see ticks), a long sleeve shirt and long pants, tucked into your socks to keep ticks off of your skin.
Check your body for ticks after being outdoors, even in your own yard. Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you. Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body and remove any tick you find. Take special care to check these parts of your body for ticks: under the arms; in and around the ears; belly button; back of the knees; and in and around all head and body hair.
Check your clothing and pets for ticks. Ticks are often carried into the house on clothing and pets. Any ticks you find should be removed. Placing clothes into a dryer on high heat effectively kills ticks.
Modify your landscaping: Keep patios, play areas and playground equipment away from shrubs, bushes, and other vegetation. Regularly remove leaf piles and clear tall grasses and brush around your home.
Discourage deer. Ticks love to feed on deer and birds. Both play a major role in aiding ticks’ geographic distribution. In fact, Health Canada warns that surveillance has identified migratory birds that have brought tick-carrying Lyme disease to non-endemic parts of the country. By removing plants that attract deer and constructing physical barriers that discourage deer from entering your yard, you can prevent ticks from spreading near your home.
What to Do If You’ve Been Bitten by a Tick
Remove an attached tick using fine-tipped tweezers or tick remover (purchased at most pet stores) at the surface of the skin as soon as you notice it. Do not use a match to burn it. If tweezers are not available, use a tissue to protect your fingers as exposure to ticks fluids may lead to transmission of disease.
Seek immediate medical treatment regardless of how long the tick has been attached, the bacteria can penetrate the blood stream within minutes. Prompt use of antibiotics should be taken as soon as possible, following ILADS guidelines.
To Learn More: join Dr. Marie for a Lyme Disease information session Friday, May 24, 7-9:30pm @ Rama Lotus Yoga Centre, 342 Gladstone Avenue, Ottawa by Dr. Marie Matheson ND, from 7-7:45pm, and a screening of the award-winning documentary “Under Our Skin” from 7:45-9:30pm. This is a FREE event, open to the public.