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Tick season off to an early start, Health Unit cautions

SIMCOE, ON, MARCH 27, 2012 – The unusually warm March weather we have been experiencing is bringing out more than shorts and sandals. Health officials in Haldimand-Norfolk say the early arrival of warm temperatures has also brought an early start to the tick season.

The Health Unit usually starts receiving ticks from the public for identification and Lyme disease testing in late April or early May. However, submissions of ticks removed from people, or their pets, started arriving six weeks earlier this year.
“These early submissions from the public may be due to an increase in people being in contact with tick habitats, as the warm weather encourages outdoor activities such as hiking and biking,” said Kris Lutzi, Senior Public Health Inspector with the Health Unit. “If these weather trends continue, we may be in for a long, busy tick season.”

Tick population growth is more suited to warm, humid conditions, as moisture is required for ticks to undergo metamorphosis. Lower temperatures inhibit their development from an egg to larva.

Last year, the Health Unit saw the number of submissions of blacklegged ticks, commonly referred to as deer ticks, almost triple from 2010’s numbers. Of the 86 ticks submitted for testing in 2011, 18 tested positive for Lyme disease.
In general, an infected deer tick needs to be attached for 24 hours or more before it can transmit Lyme disease.

Symptoms of Lyme disease often include a red bull’s-eye rash around the tick bite, muscle and joint pain, headache, fever and fatigue. If not treated, the symptoms may disappear and more serious problems with the nervous system, heart and arthritis may occur weeks, months or years after the bite.

Anyone who removes a tick from themselves is encouraged to bring it, in a plastic or jar or bottle, to any of the Health Unit office locations. A pair of tweezers should be used to pull ticks in a straight motion from the skin. Only deer ticks taken off people will be tested for Lyme disease.

The Health Unit is reminding the public that its tick identification and Lyme disease testing program is for surveillance purposes only, and not for diagnosis.

“We recommend that anyone bitten by a blacklegged tick consult a doctor,” added Lutzi. “Diagnosis is dependent on your symptoms, your exposure details such as how long the tick was attached and where you were when the bite occurred, and may also be supplemented by blood tests.”.”

Turkey Point and Long Point have been labelled endemic areas for Lyme disease, which means the disease has been found in both ticks and wildlife in those areas. While blacklegged ticks and Lyme disease may be present in other local areas, protecting yourself and your pets is especially important in these areas.

Luckily, hikers, bikers and other outdoor enthusiasts can take a few simple steps to greatly decrease their risk of tick bites, the Health Unit pointed out.

“People can prevent tick bites by wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirt in wooded areas and sticking to trails to avoid contact with plants,” Lutzi advised. “They should also apply insect repellent, have pets treated with appropriate anti-tick medication, and check themselves and their pets for ticks before going back in their house.”

More information on tick identification and submission, as well as more ways to prevent tick bites and Lyme disease is available on the Health Unit’s website at www.hnhu.org.

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Media contact:
Kris Lutzi
Senior Public Health Inspector – Healthy Environment Team
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
Ext. 3261 at either 519.426.6170 or 905.318.6623
kris.lutzi@hnhu.org