Tick Talk- A Discussion About Lyme Disease

Category: Banff National Park, General Information, Safety

There is a lot of talk about ticks these days. Why? Because of the risk of Lyme disease. However, the risk of contracting this disease is very low,  and not everybody reacts the same way.

I recently chatted with a member of CALS – Central Alberta Lyme Society, here is a summary of this discussion.

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What is a Tick?

CALS:  They are small arachnids, but most people call them bugs.

Source: TickEncounter Resource Center.

Source: TickEncounter Resource Center.

What is Lyme disease?

CALS: Lyme Disease is the umbrella term used to describe all Lyme disease and co-infections caused by Lyme borreliosis, which is an infectious disease caused by bacteria of the Borrelia type.

One of the most significant issues with Lyme Disease is that is known as the great imitator, as it mimics other conditions so diagnoses can be tricky.

What other diseases does Lyme Disease Mimic and what are the symptoms of Lyme Disease?

CALS:  the list of symptoms is long. It can imitate Multiple Sclerosis, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Lupus to name a few.  CALS has put together the following information pamphlet.

CALS Lyme Disease Information Brochure

Here is a link to the downloadable PDF.
CALS Brochure 04 2018

Do all ticks carry Lyme disease?

CALS:  Janet Sperling, an entomologist for U of A, has found 1 in 5 Ticks carry Borrelia, that said almost all ticks are carrying something from Bartonella to Rocky Mountain Fever.

It isn’t just the adult ticks that can infect you; the nymphs can also infect you. The Blacked Legged Tick (found in Canada, other than BC) and Western Black-Legged Tick(found only in BC) carry Lyme disease, in Canada.

Picture from the internet. No copyright infringement intended.

Are Ticks Found Across Canada?

CALS: Yes, specific areas within the following provinces are currently identified risk areas in Canada.   British Columbia,  Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia

picture from the internet. No copyright infringement intended.

Are ticks active all year long or just in the spring?

CALS: Ticks can be active all year long including the warmer days in the winter.

Additional Information from Take a Hike With Your Children:  The risk of Lyme Disease is higher in the late spring and early summer because that is when the ticks are born. Ticks in the Nymph stage need to feed twice, they are not born with Lyme Disease but contract it if one of their hosts is infected.  Nymphs are VERY small and hard to see,  they can be the size of a poppy seed and therefore hard to see and remove, which can increase the risk of getting bit and potentially contracting Lyme Disease.

Can you spot the ticks? The red arrows help. Picture from the Centre for Disease Control website.
Can you spot the ticks? The red arrows help. Picture from the Centre for Disease Control website.

I read that Lyme disease has historically been a “Hikers Disease,” and that urban dwellers never need to worry. However, a 2014 Globe and Mail article points out, that “Disease-carrying ticks in Canada have increased tenfold in the past two decades, spread by migratory birds and nurtured by warming climates that allow them to thrive in our backyards.”

What can you do to prevent ticks in our backyard?

CALS: Keep your grass short, try not to attract migratory birds. Try to keep rodents and deer away, rake up the leaves, dispose of clutter.

In addition to birds, what other animals can they hitch a ride on?

CALS: Mice, birds, moose, rabbits, dogs. They don’t distinguish as much as we think they sense the warmth of another animal and then go for it!

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Many people hike with dogs, what parts of our body and our dogs should we check for ticks?

CALS: Check your entire body for ticks, especially the less obvious spots highlighted on the poster.

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Can dogs also get Lyme disease? If they get it, can they pass it to humans?

CALS: They can get Lyme disease and most vets know this and warn their clients. There is a Lyme vaccination for dogs. As far as I know, they can’t pass it to us, but if your pooch has a tick on them and you give him a cuddle it can detach and then attach to you.

Additional Information from Take A Hike With Your Children: Not all dogs will get Lyme disease and “90 to 95 percent of dogs that get infected with the Lyme disease bacterium from a tick bite do not get sick because they get rid of it on their own” CBC Article – July 11, 2017

Engorged tick nestled into some dog fur. Picture from the internet, no copyright infringement intended.
Engorged tick nestled into some dog fur. Picture from the internet, no copyright infringement intended.

I read that if you get to a Dr. fast enough you can be put on a course of antibiotics and that should eliminate Lyme disease, if that is the case, why are people so worried about getting bit by a tick?

CALS: Testing in Canada is flawed often taking years for a diagnosis. Treatment is hard to find and expensive.

Additional Information from Take a Hike With Your Children:  Health Canada had a conference to develop a framework on Lyme Disease in 2016, and the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation is  “working with provincial and federal governments on the creation of new laboratory, clinical, and surveillance guidelines for Canada for TBID.” Source: Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation.

How long does it take for a tick to “dig in” into your skin?

CALS: Not long and it is a myth that they have to be attached for a specific length of time to pass the disease. The concern is when the tick regurgitates into the host. That is why proper removal is essential.

If you are bitten by an infected Tick how soon after will you experience symptoms of Lyme disease?

CALS: It can be that day or 2 weeks or 2 months. We say to watch for any changes mentally or physically for three months.

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Do some people carry a natural antibody to Lyme disease?

CALS: I’m not sure, this seems to be the missing puzzle piece, why do some get it, and some don’t, why do some people get cured with basic treatment, and some don’t.  More research is needed.

Does everyone bit by a tick get the telltale bullseye rash?

CALS: No, I didn’t.  I don’t even know when I was bitten.

Picture from the internet. No copyright infringement intended.
Picture from the internet. No copyright infringement intended.

How can you prevent getting bit by a tick?

  • Wear light clothing – you can see the ticks better
  • Wear long pants and socks, or gaiters
  • Pull your socks over your pants
  • Wear long sleeves
  • Wear closed toe shoes
  • Shower or bath after being outside, this will wash off any loose ticks
  • Do a “full body” check, particularly on little kids: hair, behind the ears
  • Females should use a “stand to pee” personal urination device, if they don’t have one, they need do a thorough tick check of that area
  • Avoid walking in tall grass
  • Hike with a friend, (you should anyway), and have them “check your back” for any hitchhikers
  • Wear a hat, if you don’t, you should thoroughly check your scalp
  • Wear an insect repellent. (check out this link if you are not a fan of chemical repellants)
  • When you get home take off all your clothes put in the dryer on high for 15 mins, then wash in hot and dry again
  • Check animal before cuddling with them or letting them on furniture or beds
Lake O’Hara, on the trail to McAurther Lake.
Lake O’Hara, on the trail to McAurther Lake.
OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent 6 ounce
OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent 6 ounce

How do I remove a tick properly?

Do:

  • Make sure you have a decent pair of tweezers, used for tick removal, in your first aid kit. CALS has a tick removal kit.
  • With tweezers gently grasp its head and mouth as close to the skin as possible.
  • Pull the tick straight out, do not jerk it or twist it, the goal is to remove the entire tick, not just parts of it.

Don’t Do Any Of The Following:

  • Don’t  squash it
  • Don’t apply lit matches, cigarettes, or petroleum
jellies to a tick, as these may cause the infected tick to release the bacteria into the wound.
  • Don’t use any liquids, oils, lotions or potions to remove the tick.
CALS tick removal kit
CALS tick removal kit
CALS has TicKits (tick removal kits) available. Contact them via their CALS FB page or send an email to lymereddeer@gmail.com
CALS has TicKits (tick removal kits) available. Contact them via their CALS FB page or send an email to lymereddeer@gmail.com

What should someone do with the Tick?

CALS: We collect ticks and send them to Janet Sperling in Edmonton for her research project at the U of A. Each sample must be sealed in a small bottle with part of a moist cotton ball; included info should be: Contact information -Date -Geographical area tick was found. -Host animal (if there was one). And to mail asap to : 9131 118 Street Edmonton, Alberta T6G1T4

In Summary:

In 2009 there were 144 cases of confirmed Lyme Disease cases in Canada, in 2016 this number rose to 992 confirmed cases in Canada,  88% of the cases are from Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia.  Source: Government of Canada Public Health Services.

In 2017,  382 ticks were brought to the National Microbiology Lab in Manitoba, of those 32 were deer ticks, and two tested positive for Lyme Disease. Source: CBC News, Ticks that can transmit Lyme Disease found at Ojibway Prairie Complex.

It seems that the risk of contracting Lyme disease is still quite low. However, there is no doubt that it is a debilitating disease and that more education and research is required. For now, Prevention is the best medicine.

Happy Hiking!

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