Does the threat of the blacklegged tick — the tiny bloodsucking bug that carries Lyme disease — match the hype?
There’s no way to know for certain, but the supervisor of health protection at Lambton Public Health says a warming climate has fueled the worrisome pest’s march north and expanded the range of the debilitating illness.
Lori Lucas said people shouldn’t be fearful of venturing out into nature, but they should practise self-protection.
“Everyone has been cooped up waiting for spring, and it’s finally here,” she said.
One human case of Lyme disease was confirmed in Lambton last year, and it was deemed travel-acquired.
In fact, since 2014 when the health unit began its testing program, only seven ticks have tested positive for Lyme disease. Four of those were last year.
To avoid being bitten while working or playing in woods and fields, use an insect repellent containing DEET and wear light-coloured clothing. After returning home, inspect yourself and pay extra attention to the armpits, scalp and groin.
The standard advice of wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts might not appeal to everyone on a hot day, Lucas admitted, but it does help.
Showering can also wash away the pests before they attach to the skin.
If you do find a tick attached, don’t panic, Lucas said. Use tweezers to pull it straight out of the body.
It usually takes an attached tick 24 to 36 hours to begin transmitting the bacteria.
If infected, reactions vary. The red “bulls-eye” rash often reported in media occurs only in 25% of cases, and some people have no rash at all.
Lyme disease manifests in a different ways, making it difficult to diagnose. Left untreated, it can result in motor impairments and arthritis-like symptoms.
Lambton Public Health conducts routine surveillance for ticks. Employees drag white cloths across the terrain to see what types of ticks present.
Six types of ticks may be found, but so far this year the most common has been the American dog tick.
Dog ticks can seriously infest pets and they do attach to humans, but don’t carry the bacteria that cause Lyme.
Ticks normally become a problem starting in April, but the long winter this year delayed the season.
Last year, 361 ticks were submitted for testing to the health unit and 37 were blacklegged ticks.