Here's what you need to know about tick bites and Lyme disease

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Summer in Canada provides a small window of opportunity to take advantage of the warmer temperatures to enjoy the great outdoors. Whether you have plans to go hiking, camping or simply spend time in your backyard, it’s important to educate yourself on the pest that can cause serious health issues: ticks.

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According to a recent study, rising temperatures across Canada and changes in rainfall pattern have made areas that were once thought to be tick-free now a hospitable environment for ticks to live. The spread of tick distribution across Canada and the United States due to climate change has lead to a recent increase in tick borne illnesses and infections, including Lyme disease. In Canada, the number of reported cases of Lyme disease has increased from 144 in 2009 to 2,025 in 2017 with a majority of cases occurring in Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is an infection caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, spread through bites from an infected tick.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ticks can attach themselves to any part of the body but are often found in the groin, armpits and scalp and must typically be attached to the body for 36 to 48 hours before Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted.

Symptoms of Lyme disease

Lyme disease symptoms can often be mistaken for the flu. Within the first three to 30 days after a tick bite, a person can experience fever, chills, headache, swollen lymph nodes, muscle aches and fatigue.

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A rash (Erythema migrans) at the site of the tick bite can occur in about 70 to 80 per cent of infections, on average a week after infection. The rash can grow up to 12 inches in size and may feel warm or hot to the touch.

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Days to months after infection, symptoms can progress to include a severe headache, neck stiffness, additional rashes may develop on other areas of the body.

Facial palsy, arthritis, nerve pain, dizziness, heart palpitations, shooting pains or tingling in the hands or feet as well as problem with short-term memory.

What to do if you’ve been bitten by a tick

If you’ve been bitten by a tick, the Mayo Clinic suggests removing the tick with fine-tipped tweezers, and seal the tick in a container and keep in the freezer. If you develop symptoms within a few days, bring the tick with you to your doctor.

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Wash your hands and the bite site with warm water, soap or rubbing alcohol.

Contact your doctor if you are unable to remove the tick as soon as possible, if a rash appears and gets bigger or the bite site gets infected.

Preventing tick bites

While there is no human vaccine against Lyme disease, the best form of protection from Lyme disease is to prevent tick bites.

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Before going outdoors, be sure to spray yourself and clothing with a bug repellent that contains DEET. You can also find U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved insect repellent to suit your needs. If you’re an avid camper or hiker, you can treat your clothing and gear with products that contain 0.5% permethrin that will last for several washings to ensure your protection.

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Be sure to examine yourself thoroughly for ticks around your hairline, ears, armpits, groin, belly button and the back of your legs for ticks once you return indoors. The CDC suggests showering to help wash off potentially unattached ticks that you may not have seen. Examine your clothes and if possible, put them in the dryer for at least ten minutes to kill any ticks that may have made their way indoors.

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Ticks often migrate through animals, meaning your pet could be a carrier or ticks into your home. Aside from asking your vet about a suitable tick prevention product, be sure to check your pet around the ears, eyelids, tail, collar and under their legs for ticks.

Reduce ticks in your backyard

While many people used to believe you had to travel into a wooded area to come across ticks, many ticks are living right in their own backyard.

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You can help reduce the possibility of ticks by ensuring that your lawn and property is not a suitable environment for ticks. Make sure your lawn is frequently mowed, trees and bushes trimmed to allow for sunlight (which ticks don’t like) and remove any weeds or brush from your yard. Remove any excess furniture and keep swing-sets and garbage away from wooded areas.

Additionally, you can create a barrier around your property of wooden chips or gravel to restrict tick movement and migration into the rest of your lawn.

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