DURHAM: Durham Region Health Department has started its blacklegged tick surveillance program, for the 2019 season, to monitor for Lyme disease throughout the Region.
While not all blacklegged ticks are infected, some can carry the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi that might cause Lyme disease in humans, through the bite of an infected tick. Tick surveillance helps to identify areas of blacklegged tick activity, which aids in gauging the risk of acquiring the disease.
As part of its surveillance activities, the Health Department has been monitoring reported human cases of Lyme disease over the past few years. In 2018, there were 29 confirmed and eight probable cases of Lyme disease reported in Durham Region, while in 2017 there were 40 confirmed and eight probable cases.
“Quickly removing ticks from the skin will help prevent infection, as transmission of the Lyme disease-causing bacteria usually requires the tick to be attached to the skin for at least 24 hours,” explained Ross MacEachern, Manager, Health Protection with the Health Department. “Ticks removed from skin can be submitted to the Health Department for proper identification and further testing.”
Early symptoms of Lyme disease usually occur within one to two weeks after a tick bite, but early, localized symptoms can be experienced as soon as three days or can been seen up to a month later.
Symptoms may include fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, fatigue and a red rash that often looks like a bull’s-eye target. If detected early, Lyme disease can be treated successfully with antibiotics. Anyone who develops symptoms after being bitten by a tick should see a health care provider.
The Health Department has been “drag sampling” for blacklegged ticks since 2010. The process of drag sampling involves dragging a piece of white flannel cloth over and around vegetation where ticks could be present. In 2018, seven blacklegged ticks were collected and identified in Durham Region; all tested negative for the Lyme disease bacteria.
The Health Department also accepts ticks, submitted by the public or health care providers, which are then sent to the public health laboratory for identification and testing. Only ticks taken off a person, not off of a pet, are submitted for testing by the Health Department.
In 2018, 100 of a total 125 tick-specimens collected were identified as blacklegged ticks. While 20 of the 100 ticks tested positive for the Lyme disease bacteria, only eight of the 20 positive ticks were reported to have been picked-up within Durham Region.
Although the risk of becoming infected with Lyme disease is low, people can reduce this risk by taking precautions when visiting and enjoying outdoor activities, particularly in brushy or forested areas, where ticks are generally found.
Precautions include: Wearing long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, socks and closed footwear; Tucking your pants into your socks and wearing light-coloured clothing, which makes ticks easier to spot; Using an insect repellent that has DEET or Icaridin on your clothing and exposed skin; Taking a shower within one to two hours and examining your body thoroughly for ticks after each outing; Routinely checking pets for ticks and consulting with a veterinarian regarding long-term protection.
For more information on Lyme disease, please call the Health Department’s Environmental Help Line, at 905-723-3818 or 1-888-777-9613, or visit durham.ca/lyme. For the most up-to-date information on Lyme disease risk areas in Ontario, visit Public Health Ontario’s website, at publichealthontario.ca.
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