Health Matters: Understanding ticks

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Most people are aware that deer or black-legged ticks carry the Borrelia bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

However, many are not familiar with the ticks themselves and what we can do to try to decrease their presence in our communities and properties. Ticks are small, about the size of a sesame seed, but when they feed off human blood, grow much larger. Understanding their behaviour can help us better control their presence.

Deer or blacklegged ticks:

  • Do not fly, jump or drop from trees;
  • Prefer the woods, tall grass and prefer shaded, humid areas;
  • Do not like cement, brick, stones or mulch; and,
  • Lurk in grassy areas and cling on to humans who happen to pass by.

Related

Aside from the usual personal protection measures, these landscaping steps help create a “tick-free” zone around your home, especially if it is next to a wooded or grassy area:

  • Keep grass mowed short;
  • Trim bushes and trees to let in sunlight (ticks avoid hot, dry locations);
  • Create a border of gravel or woodchips one metre or wider around your yard if you’re next to a wooded area, or one with tall grasses;
  • Remove leaf litter, brush and weeds at the edge of the lawn and from stone walls and wood piles; and,
  • Keep children’s playground equipment away from wooded areas and consider placing these on a woodchip/mulch foundation.

When assessing the tick risk of a specific area, think of what ticks prefer. For example, they will not likely be on a paved or sandy pathway, but will likely be hiding in the grass in a forest or grassy area.

If you find a tick attached to the skin, this may not necessarily be a black-legged tick. If it is a black-legged tick, not all of them carry the bacteria. If the tick does happen to carry the bacteria, it takes 24 hours before the infection enters the body.

The good news is that when the tick is removed within the first 24 hours of attachment, there is usually no problem. However, if a tick has been attached for more than 24 hours, and you are in an high-risk area for Lyme disease (most of eastern Ontario), you should seek medical attention because a dose of preventative antibiotics may be needed that can stop the infection from developing.

Tick removal tips

  • Do not use your fingers. Instead, use a tweezer or a tick removal tool (card) to grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible;
  • If using tweezers, do not squeeze the tick. If parts of the tick break off and remain in your skin, remove them with the tweezers. If this is difficult to do, leave them alone and let the skin heal;
  • If using a tick removal card, hold it flat against the skin and slide the notch under the tick. Then gently push the card upward. Allow the tick to let go and be pulled out of the skin easily;
  • After removal, wash your hands and thoroughly and disinfect the bite site; and,
  • Do not burn the tick or use nail polish, petroleum jelly or another substance as these methods may inject Lyme disease bacteria into the skin.

On a final note, the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (www.eohu.ca) is providing free tick removal cards to area residents.

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