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Beware of disease-carrying deer ticks, Health Unit warns

SIMCOE, ON, NOV. 6, 2008 – The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit is warning hunters and hikers alike to be aware that deer ticks are still active in the area and precautions should be taken to avoid contracting Lyme disease.

“Deer ticks can carry and transmit this bacterial infection and we are still getting reports of deer ticks being detected in the area,” said Healthy Environment Program Coordinator Glen Steen. “With the great weather we’ve been having lately, there are a lot of hunters and hikers out there and we need to advise people to take precautions to protect themselves from exposure.”

The deer tick is orange to brown in colour with a black/dark brown spot near its head. In Norfolk County deer ticks have been found on the north shore of Lake Erie from Turkey Point to west of Long Point. The wood tick or dog tick, not to be confused with the deer tick, has white marks near its head and is much larger than the deer tick. The wood tick does not transmit Lyme disease.

People can pick up a free deer tick identification card at Health Unit offices in Simcoe, Caledonia and Langton.

Ticks prefer wooded areas, and tall grasslands particularly at the edge of woodlands. Deer ticks can be found on birds, mice, raccoons, deer and other species. Domestic animals such as dogs, cats, horses and cows can also carry the tick if they have been in tick-infested areas.

The first symptom in 80 per cent of cases is a circular, red, skin rash around the bite area within three to 30 days after the bite. The rash may get larger to form a red ring with a clear center. This “bull’s-eye” rash can be as large as a “loonie” or a dinner plate. Other early symptoms may include flu-like symptoms with fatigue, fever, headache, stiff neck, muscle aches and joint pain.

If not treated, the symptoms may disappear and more serious problems with the nervous system, heart and arthritis may occur weeks or months after the bite. In some cases, the bite may cause no reaction.

The Health Unit offers the following tips to reduce the risk of contracting Lyme disease:

  • Don’t walk barelegged in tall grass, wooded areas or marshlands.
  • Wear long sleeves, slacks and fully closed boots or shoes when walking in grassy or wooded areas.
  • Tucks pant legs into socks.
  • Wear light-coloured clothing to make the ticks easier to find.
  • Use insect repellents containing DEET. They can be sprayed onto clothing, especially pants and socks. Read the label when using repellents, especially when using on young children.
  • On returning from tick friendly areas, perform a self-check to ensure you have not picked up a tick on your skin or clothing. If you have a dog with you, inspect it for ticks.
  • If you do find a tick, and suspect it to be a deer tick, bring it to the Health Unit for identification. If the Health Unit suspects it to be a deer tick, it will be sent away for confirmation and tested to determine if it is carrying Lyme disease.

To remove an attached tick, use fine-pointed, needle-nosed tweezers and grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Gently pull the tick straight out. Do not twist, as that may cause the mouth parts to break off in the skin. Apply antiseptic to the bite area and wash your hands. Do not remove a tick by using a cigarette to burn it, or substances such as lighter fluid or nail polish remover.

If you suspect you have been bitten by a deer tick and you do not have the tick, or if you have symptoms of Lyme disease, see your family doctor immediately.

“While not every deer tick carries Lyme disease, you never know which insects are infected,” Steen noted. “If people do find deer ticks on themselves or their pets, we would ask them to let us know where it happened. That helps us track the movement of deer ticks in the area.”

For more information on deer ticks and Lyme disease call the Health Unit at 905-318-5367 or 519-426-6170 and ask for a Public Health Inspector.

Media Contact:
Glen Steen, Program Coordinator
Healthy Environment Team
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
519-426-6170 Ext. 3204