What it Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is a serious illness caused by infection with the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. This tiny, spiral shaped bacteria is most commonly transmitted to humans through the bite of infected black-legged ticks, and can cause a diverse array of debilitating symptoms. If caught early, Lyme disease can be easily treated with an appropriate course of antibiotics. However, if the infection goes undetected and untreated, Lyme disease can become extremely debilitating and difficult to treat.
How is Lyme disease transmitted?
Lyme disease is most commonly transmitted through the bite of infected ticks. In Canada, the most common culprits are the black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis), and the western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus). These species are not only responsible for transmitting Lyme disease, but can be vectors for a number of other equally relevant tick-borne illnesses such as Human Granulocytic Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, and Bartonellosis.
For assistance identifying any ticks you may have come in to contact with, please consult the tick ID guide (Source: CanLyme).
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
Lyme disease can present with a complex array of symptoms, ranging widely in severity. Early symptoms generally include flu-like symptoms, joint pains, and fatigue, and mild cognitive impairment. As the disease progresses, a patient may experience upwards of 80 different possible symptoms and conditions, ranging from diffuse myalgias, headaches and neurological conditions, to heart palpitations, abdominal pain and much more.
For a more complete list of the possible symptoms of chronic Lyme disease, please refer to the Horowitz Lyme-MSIDS Questionnaire (source: Lyme Ontario).
How can you prevent Lyme and other tick-related diseases?
The best way to prevent infection is to avoid tick-infested areas whenever possible, particularly in spring and early summer when nymph ticks feed. Adult ticks are a bigger threat in fall. Ticks favour moist, shaded environments; especially leafy wooded areas and overgrown grassy habitats.
Make your home and property tick safe. Indoor/outdoor pets will carry ticks into your home. Bird feeders will attract birds who are carrying ticks onto your property so do not have bird feeders or bird houses on your property.
Top tick habitat precautions:
- Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts. Tuck your pants into your socks to prevent ticks from getting inside your pants.
- Check your clothes for ticks often. Ticks will climb upwards until they find an area of exposed skin.
- Wear light coloured clothing to make it easier to spot ticks.
- Walk on pathways or trails when possible staying in the middle. Avoid low-lying brush or long grass.
- Apply insect repellent to your skin and clothing, especially at the openings such as ankle, wrist and neck.
- Do tick checks on your clothes and skin when outdoors. Tiny ticks can be hard to get off clothes so using the sticky side of duct tape will help pull those nasty creatures off.
- If you or your children have been outside playing, enjoying nature, or working, remove any visible ticks off your clothes and then put your clothes immediately into the clothes dryer first, then wash them.