The BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) is reminding people who will be spending time in wooded areas or tall grass this summer to take sensible precautions to minimize the risk of tick-borne infections, such as Lyme disease.
"It is very important that British Columbians who spend time in high-risk outdoor areas follow the simple steps necessary to prevent getting bitten by ticks, and are aware of the symptoms of possible infections such as Lyme disease," explains Dr. Bonnie Henry, physician epidemiologist at BCCDC, an agency of the Provincial Services Health Authority. "Early symptoms of Lyme disease include a 'bulls-eye' rash, which spreads outward on the skin from the tick bite, as well as fever, headache, and muscle and joint pain."
Although only a few varieties of ticks in BC carry bacteria that cause Lyme disease, many areas of the province are affected by the disease, including Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland, the Sunshine Coast, the Fraser Valley and the Kootenays.
BCCDC has been monitoring tick activity since 1993 and data suggests that the risk of contracting Lyme disease in BC remains low. Ten cases were reported to BCCDC in 2009. It's estimated that more were diagnosed and treated by doctors around the province, but were not officially reported to public health.
"While there is a risk out there, Lyme disease is both preventable and treatable," says Dr. Muhammad Morshed, program head of Zoonotic and Emerging Pathogens with the Public Health Laboratories at BCCDC. "Just a few simple steps can go a long way. You could say it's a combination of where you walk and play, and what you wear when doing so."
To help prevent tick bites:
* Walk on cleared trails.
* Wear a hat.
* Wear long sleeves, pants and light-coloured clothing.
* Tuck pant legs into socks or boots.
* Use an insect repellent containing DEET on exposed skin.
After being in an area that may harbour ticks, it's also important to inspect your clothing and your skin (as well as that of children and pets) for ticks. "If you see a tick that's buried itself into your skin, go to your family doctor and have it removed immediately," says Morshed. "If visiting your doctor isn't possible, you can remove a tick yourself with tweezers, but be sure to remove the whole tick while avoiding squeezing its body."
Ticks are small biting arachnids (related to scorpions, spiders and mites) that feed on blood. Typically ticks hang on the tips of grasses or shrubs, and can be transferred to people or animals as they brush past the vegetation. The ticks in BC that can transmit Lyme disease are the Western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus) and, more rarely, other Ixodes species (I. angustus and I. auritulus).
Lyme disease itself is caused by a bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, and was initially identified in Lyme, Connecticut, in the 1970's. Currently Lyme disease is found in parts of North America, Europe and a few other areas in the world. If left untreated, Lyme disease can affect the joints, the heart and the nervous system. Most cases of Lyme disease can be successfully treated with a few weeks of antibiotics.
To fully illustrate how to take these steps and other precautions, and to provide more information about Lyme disease and the risks posed by ticks, BCCDC has recently produced a brochure that can be accessed http://www.bccdc.ca/dis-cond/a-z/_l/LymeDisease/educmat/default.htm