Nova Scotians are encouraged to send in ticks found on themselves or their pets to be studied for the bacterial infection Lyme disease.
The Department of Natural Resources and the Public Health Agency of Canada have been looking for and studying blacklegged ticks since 2001 and have found established populations in Lunenburg County and Halifax Regional Municipality. The ticks also appear to be established in the Moose Harbour/Mersey Point area near Liverpool.
Collection and testing of ticks this spring indicates that about 7.5 per cent of ticks in Bedford's Admiral's Cove Park and about 30 per cent of the ticks in the Lunenburg area carry the bacteria that can cause Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is a preventable, treatable illness that can be transmitted by a blacklegged tick once it has attached itself to the skin for about 24 hours.
Locations to be studied are determined by the number of blacklegged ticks sent in from any area of the province. Areas identified for further study this year include Antigonish County, Mersey Point/Moose Harbour in the Liverpool area, the area surrounding Admiral's Cove Park and an expanded area of Lunenburg County.
"If we get a few ticks from an area that we haven't identified yet, we'll consider adding that to the list," said Jeff Ogden, field entomologist with the Department of Natural Resources. "That's why the ticks we get from the public are so important. It takes several days to collect in any one area so it would be impractical to choose locations randomly."
The public is urged to send ticks they find to the Museum of Natural History in Halifax or to drop them off at a local Department of Natural Resources office. The ticks should be placed in an empty pill bottle and labeled in pencil with the date and specific geographic location where the ticks were found. Blacklegged ticks will be sent to the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg for testing.
Lyme disease can be identified by a "bull's eye rash", and may be accompanied by fever, fatigue, muscle aches and headaches. Serious symptoms such as facial palsy, heart problems or chronic joint problems may also develop. It is treatable with commonly-used antibiotics. There have been four reported cases of Lyme disease in the province since 2002.
While the risk of becoming infected with Lyme disease is still low, health officials are encouraging Nova Scotians to take precautions. "We don't want people to stop using parks or enjoying the outdoors because of concerns about ticks," said Dr. Robert Strang, medical officer of health for Capital Health. "At the same time, Lyme disease is preventable so it makes sense for people to avoid tick bites."
Precautions should be taken while working or playing outside or hiking in the woods in areas where blacklegged ticks may be found. These precautions include:
- wearing a light-coloured, pants, long-sleeved shirt, and socks so ticks are more visible, and enclosed shoes;
- pulling socks up over pant legs and tuck in shirts;
- spraying clothing with an insect repellant containing DEET (should not be applied to pets);
- checking clothing and exposed skin for ticks;
- checking pets for ticks before they enter the house;
- keeping grass well cut to minimize suitable habitat for ticks on property.
There are many kinds of ticks found in Nova Scotia. Images of the blacklegged tick, instructions on removing ticks and general information on Lyme disease is available online at www.gov.ns.ca/health/ocmoh/lyme.htm .
An open house will take place Wednesday, July 19th, from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Bedford Public Library. Robbin Lindsay from the Public Health Agency of Canada and Dr. Strang will be on hand to answer questions about ticks and Lyme disease, and photos of blacklegged ticks will be on display.
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Surveillance programs to look for blacklegged ticks to be tested for the bacteria that causes Lyme disease will continue this year. Nova Scotians are encouraged to help by sending in ticks.
Recent studies show that some ticks in the Lunenburg area and in Admiral's Cove Park in Bedford carry the bacteria. Blacklegged ticks were also found in the Mersey Point/Moose Harbour area near Liverpool.
The public is urged to continue sending ticks that they find on themselves or their pets to the Museum of Natural History in Halifax or to drop them off at a local Department of Natural Resources office. The ticks should be placed in an empty pill bottle and labeled with the date and location where the ticks were found.
While the risk of becoming infected with Lyme disease is low and the illness is treatable, health officials are encouraging Nova Scotians to take precautions when working, walking or playing in the woods. Medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang says people should continue using parks and enjoying the outdoors, but should take steps to avoid tick bites since the illness can be prevented.
An open house will take place at the Bedford Public Library from six o'clock to eight thirty tonight for anyone who wants to learn more about ticks and Lyme disease.