KAWARTHA LAKES-The fact is you can encounter black-legged ticks, which can carry Lyme Disease, anywhere in Ontario. However, there are some areas with higher risks, including right here in our own backyard according to the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit.
Each year, Public Health Ontario (PHO) puts out its Lyme Disease Risk Map, which identifies different parts of the province where there have higher risks of Lyme Disease. Based on PHO’s 2022 Lyme Disease Risk Map, all of Northumberland County and the southern part of the City of Kawartha Lakes are now considered high-risk areas for Lyme Disease due to the known presence of black-legged tick populations.
“The risk areas for Lyme Disease are determined in part based on the Health Unit’s own spring and fall surveillance for ticks in this area.” Richard Ovcharovich, the Health Unit’s Manager of Health Protection told Kawartha 411 News. “Any ticks we find are sent for testing to see if they are the ones that can spread Lyme Disease. Results from our tick surveillance are used to update the risk maps each year.”
The number of cases locally is on the rise. From January to September 2021, the Health Unit reported 33 Lyme Disease cases in Haliburton County, Northumberland County and the City of Kawartha Lakes. This compares to 31 cases of Lyme Disease reported locally last year and 33 cases of Lyme Disease reported in 2019. In 2020 none of Kawartha Lakes was considered part of the high-risk areas for black-legged ticks that spread Lyme Disease.
Ovcharovich says prevention and early detection are the best ways to reduce the health impacts of Lyme Disease, an illness that, left untreated, can lead to recurring arthritis, neurological problems, numbness or paralysis. Lyme Disease can be successfully treated with antibiotics, so the earlier you receive treatment for the disease, the greater your chance of a successful recovery.
Some blacklegged (or deer) ticks can carry the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease. If an infected blacklegged tick bites a person, there is the potential risk of getting Lyme Disease.
“Typically, blacklegged ticks will settle on tall grasses and bushes, and then attach themselves to a passing person or animal. Once attached, a tick will feed on the host’s blood. The longer a blacklegged tick feeds, the more it becomes engorged and the greater the risk it can spread Lyme disease to a person.” according to Ovcharovich.
To avoid blacklegged ticks, the Health Unit strongly suggests you: apply bug spray containing DEET on your skin and clothing; wear closed-toe shoes, long-sleeved shirts and pants; pull socks over your pant legs if possible; and stay on marked trails when walking in a nature area. To keep ticks away from your property, cut grass short and trim bushes and branches to let in sunlight. More tick prevention tips and additional Lyme resources are available on the Health Unit website (www.hkpr.on.ca).
Each time after being outside, especially in a wooded or natural area where ticks are more likely to be present, people should also check themselves and their pets for ticks and remove them as soon as possible.
“If you notice a tick on your body, remove it as soon as possible. There are many tick removal products available, so be sure to follow manufacturer’s directions. If using finely-tipped tweezers, grasp the head of the tick as close to the skin as possible. Pull it slowly, straight out. Immediately after, wash the bite area with soap and water, or alcohol-based sanitizer.” explains Ovcharovich.
The Health Unit no longer accepts blacklegged ticks for testing, but you can still identify ticks to see if they are the type that could spread Lyme Disease by using the free eTick website. To use the site:
- Simply submit a photo of the tick you encounter
- You’ll be notified within 48 hours if the tick is the type that may spread Lyme disease
- You can then determine what additional care you need, including whether to see a health care provider.
If you would like to have a tick tested for the presence of Lyme Disease, there are several private labs that can test the tick for a fee.
Ovcharovich says “You should seek medical attention if a blacklegged tick has been attached for more than 24 hours or is engorged (meaning it’s been feeding for some time). You should also seek medical attention if you experience symptoms of Lyme disease, such as skin rash, fever, chills, headache, stiff neck, and muscle/joint pain. If detected early, Lyme can be treated successfully with antibiotics.”