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Tiny ticks a cause for caution, Health Unit says

SIMCOE, ON, JUNE 9, 2011 – With the weather warming up and many people spending more of their time outdoors, local health officials are reminding people to protect themselves against ticks and the risk of Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread by the bite of an infected blacklegged tick, commonly referred to as a deer tick. Deer ticks are often orange to dark brown in colour on their lower back whereas the wood tick or dog tick, not to be confused with the deer tick, has white marks on its back. Fortunately, the wood tick does not transmit Lyme disease

“Ticks that can transmit Lyme disease are very small, about the size of a poppy seed, and can easily be overlooked, so it is important to check regularly for ticks attached to your skin,” explained Sandy Stevens, Program Coordinator for the Healthy Environment Team at the Health Unit.

Early stages of Lyme disease are usually marked by one or more of the following symptoms and signs: fatigue, chills and fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, swollen lymph nodes, and possibly a “bull’s eye” red rash appearing on the skin at the site of the bite.

While not all blacklegged ticks carry Lyme disease, the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit encourages anyone who finds a tick attached to themselves or another person to submit the tick to the Health Unit for identification. Should the tick be identified as a blacklegged tick, and it has been taken off a human, it will be sent away for Lyme disease testing. Tick identification submission forms are available on the Health Unit’s website at www.hnhu.org.

“Although it is still the early part of tick season, more than 40 ticks have been submitted to the Health Unit this year,” noted Stevens. “This already surpasses the number of submissions for all of 2010 and we are currently awaiting lab results which will indicate whether or not any of the ticks test positive for Lyme disease.”

A total of 33 ticks were submitted to the Health Unit for testing in 2010. Five of these ticks tested positive for Lyme disease. In each of 2008, 2009 and 2010, three human cases of Lyme disease have been confirmed in the Haldimand and Norfolk areas.

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.

Ticks cannot fly or jump. They like to rest on low-lying vegetation and attach to a passing animal or person. Once on a body, ticks often attach to the more hidden areas such as the groin, armpits and scalp, so these areas should be checked thoroughly when coming in from outdoors.

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.

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.
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.

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Media contact:
Sandy Stevens
Program Coordinator
Healthy Environment Team
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit