Tick talk: Navigating Greater Fort Erie’s Lyme disease landscape

When the dark winter clouds break and spring finally shines down, Fort Erie residents grab their sunblock and head out into nature.

The Friendship Trail again bustles with walkers and cyclists, nature lovers meander through the trails of Shagbark Nature Park, and Windmill Point Park fills with eager campers setting up their summer homesteads.

But upon arriving home, some may encounter an unwelcome hitchhiker.

Yes, it is tick season again.

These eight-legged parasitic arachnids feed off the blood of humans, animals, and birds. They are 3-5 mm in length, depending on their age, sex, species, and stage of feeding. Ticks can transmit bacteria and viruses to their hosts; Lyme disease is the most common.

The blacklegged tick, also known as a deer tick, is the main carrier of Lyme disease. They are small and hard to see, and as with all ticks, are hardy and can withstand very cold temperatures, but are most active above freezing.

This means a higher likelihood of finding one of them after a day outside in the sun.

Not all ticks carry the infection, of course, and not everyone infected will develop any issues. But there are some early signs to watch for just to be on the safe side.

Lyme disease symptoms vary from person to person and develop in stages. Early symptoms may include the well-known bullseye rash, fever, chills, fatigue, and headache. Undiagnosed Lyme disease can progress into arthritis, memory loss, nerve pain, facial drooping, and even swelling on the brain.

The best chance for full recovery is to see a doctor within 24 hours of a bite as antibiotics are most effective early on.

Blacklegged ticks travel on birds and deer and can be found almost anywhere in Ontario. And according to the Public Health Ontario Lyme disease risk area map, Fort Erie is in a high-risk area.

Ticks are more concentrated in wooded areas and in tall grass and bushes, so there is a greater chance of being bit while hiking, camping, or gardening, but any time spent outdoors can pose a risk.

The best way to avoid contracting any tick-borne diseases is through prevention, and there are many precautions one can take to try and avoid a bite.

Wearing light-coloured clothing can make it easier to spot ticks quickly. As well, closed-toe shoes, long-sleeved shirts, and tucking pant legs into socks are all a great start for prevention. Insect repellent sprays can also be effective.

Minor Bros (2736 Stevensville Rd.) sells a product called Tickless, which is an ultrasonic tick and flea repellant. There are portable versions and one that plugs into the wall for indoor protection.

Mark’s (310 Garrison Rd.) even carries a line of tick repellent clothing.

Property maintenance is also a good strategy for keeping ticks at bay, such as mowing the lawn and keeping trees and bushes trimmed back from pathways.

Laying a border of mulch or gravel next to wooded areas can stop ticks from migrating onto lawns. Swings and playground sets should be kept away from wooded areas.

After returning indoors, putting clothes on high in the dryer for ten minutes before washing them will kill any travellers that may have hitched.

It is also a good idea to check behind knees, on the head, in the belly button and groin area, under arms, and on the back. Shower once a thorough check has been completed.

If you happen to find a tick attached to you, be careful not damage it as they can release bacteria. Use tweezers to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull straight out gently but firmly to ensure the head is removed intact.

After removal, wash skin and hands with soap and water, then disinfect the bite.

Photos of any ticks found should be submitted to Public Health or etick.ca for identification prior to disposal.

For disposal, either flush it down the toilet, drop it in a jar of rubbing alcohol, or stick it to tape and fold it over before putting it in the garbage.

The warm weather should be enjoyed before we all go scurrying back into our houses awaiting winter’s wrath. But when it comes to tick bites and Lyme disease, a bit of caution can offset many unpleasant long-term complications.

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