Lyme disease is the fastest growing epidemic in North America, and is found right across Canada. The disease is an infection caused by Borrelia bacteria 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. 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. There are more ticks in rural areas, but they can be carried by animals, birds, and humans into a city.
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 animals may harbour live ticks well into winter. Hunters should note that ticks can survive for some time on a dead animal.
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. If you see any of these symptoms, see a doctor right away. If 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 eradicate this bacterial infection. If not treated, Lyme Disease can cause ongoing pain and permanent disability of the heart, nervous system or joints.
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. The tick attaches to your skin with their mandible (mouth), which has backward sloping barbs that hold it in. Once the tick attaches to the skin, it's difficult to pull it staight out. You must get a good grip near its mouth with fine-tip tweezers (not blunt-tip). An alternative is to loop dental floss tightly around the tick's mouthparts close to its attachment to the skin. Pull steadily upwards until the tick releases. Place the tick in a bottle or zip-lock bag with a damp paper towel. Wash the bite site with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.
Cautions: Never use a match, petroleum jelly or nail polish as this makes a tick burrow in, injectinging even more saliva into the skin! [Tick Removal] If any parts remain attached, try to remove them with tweezers. Clean the bite with soap and water or use rubbing alcohol. Watch for symptoms, and see a doctor immediately if any develop.
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. [Video]
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 ticks that carry 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.