Tick Tock: Time to Keep an Eye Out for Blacklegged Vectors of Lyme Disease

Photo by Scott Bauer. (USDA ARS)

It was a beautiful summer day for a work-inspired road trip, and  I can only blame myself for the ignorance that coupled my hermit-like tendencies. Rather than doing what most people do on a traveling work budget, I decided to head into the wilds of Saskatchewan, finding and claiming a quaint campsite instead of a hotel. I showered, then walked through much of the provincial park (wild, I know), taking pictures, writing and sneaking up on wildlife. Ignorance was a friendly companion, as I settled into my tent that evening.

I can’t really remember the sun creeping into my life that morning, but I will never forget packing up the tent to find a small critter crawl out from under my sleeping bag. At the time, I didn’t really analyze what I assumed to be an insect. I just flicked it out of the tent, packed up my belongings and headed for the showers. 

It wasn’t until late that day, when I had joined a friend for lunch, that I realized that little insect was no insect at all. We were enjoying a wonderful meal of sushi, when I suddenly felt something crawling across my neck. Reflexes. Before I knew it, an arachnid landed squarely on the table between us, at which point my friend calmly informed me of what I had already suspected — it was a tick.

What is a Tick

Photo by Scott Bauer. (USDA ARS)

Adult Deer Tick | Photo by Scott Bauer. (USDA ARS)

Sorry, arachnophobes, ticks belong to the same class as spiders (Arachnida) under the phylum Arthropoda. This, of course, means that beyond their blood-sucking, disease-vectoring capabilities, ticks have two more legs than their insect counterparts.

As obligate hemataphoges, ticks require a blood meal in order to move from larvae to nymph, then again to become an adult. At this point, males do very little feeding, while females tend to need one last meal before laying eggs.

What is Lyme Disease

Lyme disease was first recognized in 1975, in Lyme, Conneticut and is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi. The bacterium is vectored between susceptible hosts by blacklegged ticks (Ixodes scapularis), also commonly referred to as deer ticks.

Found a tick? Check out this sweet tick ID chart from the states and hit W/N Central to compare deer ticks to dog ticks.

Early symptoms of Lyme Disease can include Erythema migrans (a bull’s-eye rash around the bite wound), fever, body aches, headache and fatigue. Later symptoms can include arthritis, meningitis, Bell’s palsy and poor coordination.

In order to transmit the infection, ticks must have been feeding for an extended period of time, creating an important timeframe that emphasizes the importance of removing ticks as soon as they’re found.

Tests for Lyme Disease look for antibodies against the bacterium, and a diagnosis will include the information gathered from such tests as well as other symptoms identified by the patient, and the likelihood of being exposed to infected ticks. Treatment usually involves 2-4 weeks of antibiotic therapy.

Lyme disease endemic and risk areas in Canada via the Government of Canada

Lyme disease endemic and risk areas in Canada via the Government of Canada

 

Prevention is Key

Clearly one of the best ways to prevent Lyme Disease is to prevent contact with blacklegged ticks. According to the Government of Canada and WebMD, prevention can include any and all of the following:

  • Bug spray with DEET or Icaridin and protective clothing will help you keep ticks away and prevent Lyme disease. If you find a tick attached to your skin, the best way to remove it is with a pair of tweezers. And don't forget to wash the bite site with soap and water or a sanitizer.

    Bug spray with DEET or Icaridin and protective clothing will help you keep ticks away and prevent Lyme disease. If you find a tick attached to your skin, the best way to remove it is with a pair of tweezers. And don’t forget to wash the bite site with soap and water or a sanitizer.

    Wearing closed-toe shoes, long-sleeved shirts and pants

  • Pulling socks over pant legs to prevent ticks from crawling up legs
  • Wearing light-coloured clothes to spot ticks easier
  • Wear your shirt tucked into your pants, and your pants tucked into your socks or boots.
  • Keep grass trimmed as short as possible (ticks will dry out and die on sunny lawn)
  • Using insect repellents that contain DEET (active ingredient to keep bugs away) or Icaridin. Repellents can be applied to clothing as well as exposed skin. Always read and follow label directions
  • Walk in the centre of trails through the woods to avoid picking up ticks from overhanging grass and brush.
  • Showering or bathing within two hours of being outdoors to wash away loose ticks
  • Doing a daily “full body” check for ticks on yourself, children and pets

Surveillance Programs

Lyme disease and tick surveillance programs vary by province, with some accepting all ticks found on humans or pets, and others asking for blacklegged ticks only. Head on over to your province’s website to find out which ticks to submit, and how to do so.

British ColumbiaAlberta | Saskatchewan | Manitoba

Other provinces may vary even further. If you find a tick, talk to your local health office or doctor for more information on what to do next. Seek medical attention if you find an attached tick or experience symptoms associated with Lyme Disease.

In telling the story of my overnight camping campanions over the days that followed, the best response I received was a surprised, “You only found two?” 

Related:

Gaining Ground: Managing On-Farm Fly Populations
Genetic Engineering Keeps Pest Populations in Check — For Human and Crop Health
$4M Invested by Monsanto to Protect Monarch Butterflies and Restore Milkweed Habitat

 

 

Debra Murphy

Debra Murphy is a Field Editor based out of central Alberta, where she never misses a moment to capture with her camera the real beauty of agriculture. Follow her on Twitter @RealAg_Debra

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