May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month and people need to remember that tick-borne diseases are completely preventable.
People can protect themselves by performing regular tick checks after spending time outdoors, knowing where blacklegged ticks (also known as deer ticks) are located, minimizing the risk of exposure, and recognizing the signs and symptoms of tick-borne diseases. These precautions will help protect against Lyme disease, as well as anaplasmosis and babesiosis, two newly emerging tick-borne diseases.
Blacklegged ticks, which can carry anaplasmosis, babesiosis and Lyme disease, are most commonly found within and along the edge of forests and in areas with thick, woody shrubs and other vegetation. Blacklegged ticks are found more often from early spring through late fall. The smaller nymphs are difficult to see and are most abundant during late spring and summer.
Blacklegged ticks found within these risk areas are more likely to carry the agents that cause anaplasmosis, babesiosis and Lyme disease. While blacklegged ticks can be found outside of these risk areas, the risk of tick-borne disease transmission is lower.
Limiting exposure to potentially infected blacklegged ticks is the key to tick-borne disease prevention. Reduce your risk of tick exposure by:
- Applying an appropriate tick repellent, following label directions, on exposed skin and clothing;
- Inspecting themselves, children and pets after spending time outdoors;
- Removing ticks as soon as possible from people and pets;
- Staying to the centre of walking trails;
- Wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts; and
- Keeping grass and shrubs around homes cut short to create drier environments that are less suitable for blacklegged tick survival.
Symptoms of anaplasmosis can start five to 21 days after a tick bite and may include fever, chills, headache, joint aches, nausea and vomiting, often in association with blood abnormalities and/or liver abnormalities. Anaplasmosis can be successfully treated with antibiotics.
Symptoms of babesiosis can start one to six weeks after a tick bite and may include non-specific flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, sweats, headache, body aches, loss of appetite, nausea or fatigue. Babesiosis can be successfully treated with antibiotics.
Symptoms of Lyme disease can start about three days to one month after a tick bite, often with an expanding rash which then fades. Early symptoms can also include headache, stiff neck, muscle aches or fatigue, fever, chills and swollen lymph nodes. Lyme disease can be successfully treated with antibiotics and treatment is most successful in the early stages of infection.
In Alberta, the provincial Health Ministry has a ‘Submit a tick’ program, and anyone finding a tick on themselves, others, or pets is asked to take it to a provincial environmental health office or to a veterinarian. All blacklegged ticks will be tested to see if they carry the bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, that can cause Lyme disease in humans.
Results of this program will help Alberta Health monitor for changes to the risk of Lyme disease in Alberta. In 2014, 1,376 ticks were submitted and nine tested positive for Borrelia burgdorferi.
For more information, go www.health.alberta.ca, click on the Health Information tab, and scroll down to Ticks and Lyme disease.