Keep yourself tick-free

By Jenna Wootton

Tick season is off to an early start this year, thanks to a milder winter and an early spring warm spell. There have already been reported cases of tick bites, so best to be on your guard, as Ontario cottage country is becoming a more popular spot for ticks to settle these days. While they’re generally more prevalent in the United States, climate change is helping to move these creatures north. Established populations are reported in Ontario at Long Point, Point Pelee National Park, Rondeau Provincial Park, Turkey Point, Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area, and St. Lawrence Islands National Park in the Thousand Islands. In fact, “the St. Lawrence River and Thousand Islands are hot spots right now,” says Mary Peterson, a registered nurse on the communicable disease team at Kingston Public Health. In 2011, they received 345 ticks for analysis, up from 140 in 2010.

But if you’re not in one of these areas, don’t be complacent: The ticks are carried by small animals such as rodents and foxes, but also by birds and deer, so they have the potential to be found farther afield. We’ve even heard of someone being infected by a tick bite in Algonquin Park.

Why the fuss? Tick bites are usually painless but they may cause you to contract Lyme disease, a disease caused by a bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi) carried by blacklegged ticks (Ixodes scapularis, formerly called deer ticks). If the infection is caught within a few days of your tick bite, antibiotics usually produce a full recovery. When left longer, treatment may require months of antibiotics. If it’s left untreated too long, it may not be possible to cure the disease, only to manage the symptoms. As Peterson explains, “After too long, you can get rid of the bacteria, but the damage will likely already be done to joints, muscles, and the neurological system.” According to Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, in the long term, the disease can attack the central nervous system, brain, or heart. But, don’t worry; there are lots of ways you can keep yourself—as well as your friends and family—safe at the cottage.

Know what ticks look like. In the summer, ticks are in their nymph stage, and they can be as small as a pepper flake, says Peterson. Once they’ve reached adulthood, “you should have no trouble identifying them.” Adult ticks—before a meal—look like small, thin beetles that are brown and black in colour. Once they start feeding they will balloon up and be more rounded in shape. Not surprisingly, because they can go undetected so easily in the nymph phase, it is the stage when most people are infected with Lyme disease, according to the Ontario Public Health Division.

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