In pop culture, The Tick may be a crime-fighting superhero, but in real life, these insects can be fairly dangerous — especially the ones that carry Lyme disease.
With tick numbers increasing in Canada over the past decade, we’ve certainly become more aware of Lyme disease and its side effects, which can include a fever, headache and fatigue in mild cases. In severe cases, the infection can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system. So get to a doctor immediately if you notice a tick bite. Thankfully, it can usually be treated with just a few weeks of antibiotics.
Powassan virus is another tick-transmitted illness that’s even more rare than Lyme disease… and also more deadly. An infected person will often start out with a headache and then move into more severe symptoms like having trouble speaking, confusion or a lack of co-ordination. But here’s the worst part: there’s absolutely no form of treatment for the disease. And in 10 per cent of cases where the infection spreads to the brain, Powassan can actually be fatal.
Scary stuff, right?
Thankfully, Dr. Matthew Gilmour, the scientific director general of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s national microbiology laboratory, stated that Powassan infection — which is named after the first case of the illness, documented in Powassan, Ontario in 1950 — is only found in “a handful” of ticks.
Since that first case, there have only been 25 reported cases of the disease in Canada (and 75 in the States) compared to 800 reported cases of Lyme disease just last year. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t all take possible precautions against the grass-loving critters as the weather gets warmer.
Gilmour recommends tick bite prevention as the first course of action, which is easily done by doing things like using insect repellent or wearing long pants when you’re out on a hike. When you do come back inside, be sure to check yourself (and your pets!) over for any burrowing bugs, and remove any that you do see immediately. Maintaining a properly trimmed lawn and raking up your leaves is also a great way to stop the tick population from spiking close to home.
And as always, if you develop any symptoms, like an unexplained fever or headache, be sure to see the doctor right away. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.