MUSKOKA - The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit is reminding locals and cottagers to take the steps necessary to protect themselves from Lyme disease this summer.
Although Muskoka is a low-risk region for the disease, health protection supervisor Ryan MacDougall says precautions should be taken to ensure the region remains that way. Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that spreads through bites from blacklegged ticks that carry it. If the condition is not treated early, complications can evolve to affect the heart, nervous system or joints.
“They live in wooded areas, so we’re usually concerned about campgrounds and provincial parks, because that’s where people are outdoors,” said MacDougall.
MacDougall says areas of particular concern for Lyme disease are generally in southern Ontario, where climates are warmer. However, he said Muskoka lies in a “borderline” region where ticks which carry the bacteria could survive.
Since the health unit began collecting ticks for analysis in 2007, MacDougall says the unit has received about 20 ticks for analysis each year. Though the type of ticks which could carry the disease have been found, the unit has not found any ticks which carry Lyme disease.
Nonetheless, he said locals and cottagers should still be wary as summertime in Muskoka involves many outdoor activities in areas where ticks could reside.
“Because it is cottage (country), they’re going to partake in those types of activities that potentially would expose them,” he said. “They’re going to be out in fields, grass, on hiking trails – all of the areas we would watch for ticks.”
MacDougall said early symptoms of Lyme disease can appear about a week after a victim is bitten by a tick. They include flu-like symptoms like muscle aches and pains, fever and fatigue. About 80 per cent of those infected will develop a bull’s eye rash – a red dot surrounded by a ring of clear skin, followed by another ring of skin affected by the rash. Medical attention should be sought immediately following the appearance of symptoms of Lyme disease.
The health unit advises people who are bitten by ticks to remove them promptly using fine-tipped tweezers, and to take care not to squeeze the insect or to burn them off. Once the tick is removed, it should be placed in a screw-top bottle like a pill vial or film canister, and taken to a doctor or local health unit for analysis. Information on the where the bite occurred should also be provided to medical authorities, which can help provide information on the risk of Lyme disease infection and areas of risk. The bite should be treated with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.
To prevent tick bites, MacDougall encourages locals and cottagers to wear light-coloured clothing, long pants and long-sleeved shirts, and closed footwear with socks in areas where ticks are likely to be found. Insect repellants with DEET can help for people, while pets can benefit from a tick and flea collar.
Those who frequent areas where blacklegged ticks are found are asked to examine themselves thoroughly for ticks with the help of a mirror or someone else.
More information on Lyme disease and ticks can be found at the health unit’s website at www.simcoemuskokahealth.org, under the infectious diseases section.