It seems like we’re on track to have a warm, dry Canadian summer, and while that may be wonderful for barbecues and beach trips, it’s also great for ticks. Yeah, sorry to kill that summer mood, but it looks like we’re in for more ticks than usual this year, especially in the Ottawa area which has been labelled high risk for those little buggers. Oh, and more bad news, they’re bringing their Lyme disease with them.
What that means is that you, your children and even your pets could be at risk if you happen to live in or travel through an area that’s home to the creepy little bugs. Heck, even Avril Lavigne was diagnosed with it in 2013, and she later opened up about her struggle with the debilitating symptoms.
But what, exactly, is Lyme disease? How do you get it and what can you do to prevent it? What are the common symptoms? We here at The Loop are here to help, but we aren’t going to sugarcoat it. (Be warned: some of the pictures below are pretty gross.)
I’m Not Scared of Lyme Disease. Why Should I Be?
Lyme disease is spread by ticks. In Canada, only two kinds of ticks are suspect: the western blacklegged tick in B.C., and the plain ol’ blacklegged tick (AKA deer ticks), which tends to hang out in the other provinces. Here’s where the little buggers specifically congregate (click to zoom).
Campers and forest lovers, take heed: blacklegged ticks are most often found in forests and overgrown areas between woods and open spaces. But it is possible to acquire Lyme disease outside of these areas, as tick populations are expanding and spreading into other areas.
My Pets Are Totally Fine, Right?
Wrong. Pets, especially dogs, can get Lyme disease, but there’s no proof that they can spread the infection to humans. Unfortunately, your pet can easily carry infected ticks into your home and yard. They won’t even know what hit them. Neither will you.
Even this little bunny isn’t exempt from the bloodsuckers.
And check out this tick burrowing into a household cat. Poor thing.
How Do I Know If They GOT Me?
One of the most annoying things about Lyme disease is the symptoms vary from person to person, thus making it hard to diagnose. They can include one or a combination of the following with varying degrees of severity:
- fever or chills
- spasms or weakness
- numbness or tingling
- swollen lymph nodes
- skin rash
- cognitive dysfunction (brain fog) or dizziness
- nervous system disorders
- arthritis/arthritic symptoms (muscle and joint pain)
- abnormal heartbeat
Left untreated, symptoms can last months to years. They can include chronic arthritis (muscle and joint pain), nervous system and/or neurological problems. Symptoms can also include numbness and/or paralysis (unable to move parts of the body). Although very uncommon, deaths have been known to occur. See? We’re not screwing around here. The Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation has an even bigger list of symptoms. But if you’re concerned that you may have contracted it, lymedisease.org put together a super handy symptom checker (although visiting your doctor is still the best way to know for sure).
So how do you know you’ve been bitten by a tick? Fifty per cent of infected individuals will get this lovely telltale “bullseye” mark:
Ouch ouch ouch. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), the other 50 per cent won’t have the rash and won’t even know they’ve been bitten. This is because many people are infected by “nymph” ticks, which haven’t really matured yet. They are literally the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Terrifying!
Is there any treatment for this horrible affliction?!
Thankfully, yes, but it’s important to remember that sometimes symptoms and effects of Lyme disease can last for six months to a year after treatment, and in some cases, they may become chronic and life-long.
Most cases of Lyme disease can be effectively treated with 2 to 4 weeks’ worth of antibiotics if caught early. Depending on the symptoms and when you were diagnosed, you may require a longer course of antibiotics.
But of course, the best course is prevention. If you’re venturing into a high-risk area, you need to
encase yourself in a bubble hike up your socks, wear close-toed shoes, long sleeves and long pants, and try light-coloured clothing so you can detect ticks easily. Insect repellent containing DEET helps, as does a quick shower after being outdoors (to wash away any loose ticks). Don’t let this happen to you:
But I Go Up North All The Time. Am I Screwed?
You can protect yourself at home or at the cottage if you’re near wooded areas by keeping the grass mowed, and moving firewood piles and bird feeders away from the house. Ticks, being totally disgusting, also like rodents, so it’s in your best interest to keep your house maintained. No rodents, fewer ticks. Try to use hard materials like stone and metals instead of soft materials like soil for planting.
Watch your kids and dogs; continually do full-body “tick checks.” You can talk to your vet about tick repellents (not for your kids, sadly). If this traumatizes you as an adult, think about how much it’ll traumatize your children:
What If I’ve Been Bitten And The Disgusting Thing Is Hanging From My Body RIGHT NOW?
Removing ticks within 24 to 36 hours usually prevents infection. SQUEAMISHNESS ALERT! Using clean tweezers, grasp the head as close to the skin as possible and slowly pull straight out. Afterwards, wash the bite site with soap and water or disinfect with alcohol or hand sanitizer. If mouth parts break off and remain in the skin (AHHHH!), remove them with tweezers. If you are unable to remove them easily, leave them alone and let the skin heal.
If you think removing a tick from your flesh this summer is inevitable (we’re so sorry), you can order a tick removal kit with all the tools you might/hopefully won’t need. It even comes with a little container to keep your tick in which is something you really should do.
If you’re working without the kit, save the tick (if possible) in a sealable bag and record the date of the bite. If you develop symptoms of Lyme disease in the weeks after being bitten, contact your health care provider right away. Bring the tick with you to your medical appointment, as it may help the doctor assess your illness.
Looks like this guy got away with it. He’s full.
So long, nature. It’s been nice knowing you. We’re never going outside again.