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Beware of disease-carrying mosquitoes and ticks

SIMCOE, ON, APRIL 22, 2010 – Mosquito and tick season is fast approaching and the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit is again advising people to protect themselves from diseases spread by mosquitoes and ticks, such as West Nile virus and Lyme disease.

In addition, a new virus emerged locally last year, Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus (EEEv), which was found in Haldimand County.

In 2009, the Health Unit collected and tested 39 blacklegged ticks, commonly referred to as deer ticks, three of which tested positive for Lyme disease. Both Turkey Point and Long Point have been labelled endemic areas for Lyme disease, meaning the disease has been found in those areas, both in ticks and wildlife. However, deer ticks and Lyme disease may be present in other local areas.

“The Health Unit has received deer tick submissions in the past from a variety of locations throughout Norfolk County and, to a lesser extent, Haldimand County,” said Healthy Environment Program Coordinator Glen Steen. “We continue to conduct deer tick surveillance to identify other potential endemic areas.”

As in years past, the Health Unit will be accepting ticks for identification. Should the tick be identified as a deer tick, and it has been taken off a human, it will be sent away for Lyme disease testing.

“If you have been bitten or suspect that you have been bitten by a blacklegged tick, see your family physician,” Steen advised. “West Nile virus is now considered endemic in Ontario and, as such, will continue to be a threat to the health of Ontarians. Fortunately, in 2009 no mosquito pools tested positive for West Nile virus in Haldimand and Norfolk counties.”

Residents can play a significant role in helping to prevent West Nile virus by reducing and/or eliminating mosquito breeding grounds, such as standing water, Steen noted. “Applying personal protective measures including mosquito repellent is also important.”

The emergence of Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus (EEEv) in Haldimand County is also cause for concern. Similar to West Nile virus, EEEv can be transmitted by a mosquito that has bitten an infected bird. Although most EEEv infections do not show symptoms, potential symptoms include headache, chills and fever. Severe cases can also involve irritability, restlessness, drowsiness, anorexia, vomiting, diarrhea, cyanosis (bluish skin due to inadequate oxygen), convulsions and coma.

Two horses tested positive for the virus in the fall last year. However, mosquito surveillance conducted by the Health Unit did not reveal the presence of the mosquito species capable of carrying this virus.

To protect yourself from tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease, take the following precautions:

  • 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.
  • Tuck pant legs into socks.
  • Wear light-coloured clothing to make the ticks easier to find.
  • Use insect repellents containing DEET, especially on pants and socks.
  • Conduct a “tick check” on yourself, your family and your pets after exposure to tick habitat.
  • Have your pet vaccinated for Lyme disease and apply tick-preventative treatments/measures, e.g., flea and tick collar applications.

To protect yourself from mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis, take the following precautions:

  • Avoid areas with high mosquito populations.
  • Wear light-coloured clothing, including long sleeves, pants and a hat, to cover exposed skin.
  • Use mosquito repellent containing DEET.
  • Make sure all windows and doors in your home have screens that are in good condition.
  • Take extra precaution from dusk to dawn when mosquito activity is higher.
  • Drain areas of any standing or stagnant water on your property.
  • Remove old tires, and turn over pails, toys and wheelbarrows.
  • Frequently change the water in bird baths, at least weekly.
  • Keep eaves clear to avoid trapped water.

For more information on Lyme disease, including how to submit a deer tick for testing, or West Nile virus, visit the Health Unit website at www.hnhu.org.

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Media Contact:
Glen Steen, Program Coordinator
Healthy Environment Team
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
Ext. 3204 at either 519-426-6170 or 905-318-6623