Lyme disease is the fastest growing epidemic in North America, and is found right across Canada. The disease is an infection caused by bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi transmitted through the bite of an infected tick. It is transmitted by black-legged ticks (also called deer ticks) that become infected by feeding on the blood of infected rodents, birds, and deer, then pass it on to any animal or bird they feed on. They crawl up to the edge of vegetation and make motions called ‘questing’, which makes it simple to attach to you or your clothing as you brush by.
After spending time in tall grass or woods, you should check your entire body for ticks. As they ingest blood, they grow from the size of a sesame seed to a pencil eraser. Ticks should be removed as soon as possible, since it takes at least 24 hours for them to transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. On humans, ticks are most commonly attached to arms or legs. On pets, ticks prefer skin near the eyes and ears.
Most humans are infected through the bite of an immature tick during spring and summer. These are less than 2 mm long and difficult to see. Adult ticks are much larger and are more easily noticed. Adult black-legged ticks are most active during late summer and fall. The ticks have a two year life cycle, normally becoming dormant in cold weather, but at 4°C, start looking for an animal or person to feed on for a blood meal. Animals may harbour live ticks well into winter. Deer hunters and duck hunters should note that ticks can survive for some time on a dead animal.
Ticks are carriers of other pathogens from the blood of donor mammals or birds - Rocky mountain Spotted Fever, Murine Typhus, Tetanus, Rabies, Human Babesiosis (Babesia), Anaplasmosis, Powassan virus and Staphylococcus bacteria.
2015 Ontario: 304 confirmed, 54 probable cases of Lyme disease
2014 Ontario: 149 confirmed, 71 probable cases
Prevention is very important as the disease is difficult to diagnose and can cause life-long health problems. Prevention is similar to mosquitoes. It is a good to check yourself (and your dog) after you have been in forest or fields, since the tick must be attached 24+ hours before it transmits Lyme disease. Dogs can be innoculated for the disease by a veterinarian, but there is no vaccine for humans.
Symptoms usually begin three days to a month after being infected by a tick bite. They may include a skin rash that looks like an expanding red ring and/or flu-like symptoms. The 'rash' is a red pot surrounded by a clear area of skin with redness at the outer edge, which disappears after a few weeks - the infection is still active. The bite area may feel warm to the touch (indicating infection). It isn't painful or itchy.
If you see any of these symptoms or find an attached tick on your body, see a doctor right away. Left untreated, Lyme Disease can cause neurological symptoms, rheumatologic symptoms or cardiac abnormalities weeks or even years after infection.
Early diagnosis and treatment with antibiotics can usually eradicate this bacterial infection. If not treated, Lyme Disease can cause ongoing pain and permanent disability of the heart, nervous system or joints.
A recent study published in the European Journal of Microbiology and Immunology revealed that Stevia whole leaf extracts, a natural sweetener, has been found to terminate chronic Lyme disease. The bacteria has the ability to change from spirochetes and spheroplasts into a dormant form, or hide in a biofilm form. The stevia extract was able to treat even the most antibiotic-resistant form - the biofilm form.
Ticks in grass or low shrubs can easily attach themselves to dogs. Infection typically occurs after the tick has been attached for 2-3 days, so it's important to check your dog regularly, particularly on skin near the eyes and ears. Symptoms of dogs who have acquired Lyme disease are similar to humans:
Standard Tick Removal:
The bite is painless so look for a tick the size of a sesame seed with 8 legs (much larger if full of blood). The tick attaches to your skin with their mandible (mouth), which has backward sloping barbs that hold it in, making it very hard to pull it staight out of skin. A tick-removal key is a gadget that can be used to pull the tick out of skin. You must get a good grip near its mandible. Or you can use fine-tip tweezers - not common blunt-tip tweezers. Another alternative is to loop dental floss tightly around the tick's mouthparts close to its attachment to the skin, and pull slowly and steadily upwards until the tick releases. Try to remove any mouth parts that remain. Place the tick in a bottle or zip-lock bag with a damp paper towel for testing. Wash the bite site with soap and water or rubbing alcohol. See a doctor immediately if any symptoms develop.
Cautions: Never use a match, petroleum jelly or nail polish as this makes a tick burrow in deeper, injectinging even more saliva into the skin before you can get it off! [Tick Removal]
Easy Tick Removal:
An easier method is to rub the tick's body gently in a circular motion with the tip of a finger, moving its body around until it releases from the skin. You may wear gloves as a precaution. The tick should release from the skin in under a minute. [Tick Removal video, Video 2]
Capture the tick and dispose of it by soaking in rubbing alcohol or flush it down a toilet. If you are in an area which has reported Lyme Disease, put the tick in a jar or a sealed bag with a moist paper towel and contact your municipal Public Health Unit to have it tested.