What You Need to Know About Blacklegged Ticks & Lyme Disease in Nova Scotia

Tick

The weather is warming up and many Nova Scotians are spending more time outdoors. But we aren’t the only ones enjoying the warmer weather –  as the temperature increases across the province, so does the population of blacklegged ticks.

With blacklegged ticks comes the risk of Lyme disease. Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted to humans by a bite from a blacklegged tick.

Blacklegged ticks become active when the outside temperature is consistently above four degrees Celsius. This means that ticks are most active in the spring, summer and fall seasons. 

In 2012, there were 50 cases of Lyme disease reported to Public Health in Nova Scotia. It’s expected the number of cases will increase over time as ticks become more densely populated and expand their geographical range.

Here’s what you need to know about Lyme disease in Nova Scotia:

Six endemic areas

There are six known areas in Nova Scotia where Lyme disease bacteria is present in ticks. They include areas of Lunenburg, Shelburne, Queens, Yarmouth and Pictou counties, and Halifax Regional Municipality. However, ticks could be anywhere and it is best to take precautions whenever working or playing outdoors.

Blacklegged ticks have been found in all areas of the province. They survive best in areas that provide a moist habitat. Wooded or forested areas are very suitable as the trees provide shade and leaf litter ground cover for protection.

Preventing Lyme disease

The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to avoid blacklegged tick bites, checking often for ticks and removing them before they bite.

If you live or play in areas where blacklegged ticks are present, you should protect yourself by:

  • Using insect repellent containing DEET
  • Cover as much of your skin as possible when walking, working, or playing in areas where ticks are found. Wear enclosed shoes, tuck your shirt into your pants, and tuck your pant legs into your socks.
  • Wear light-coloured clothing with a tight weave to see ticks more easily.
  • Walk on well-travelled paths away from high grass and other vegetation.
  • Check your clothing, bare skin, including arm pits, groin and scalp.
  • Remove ticks by carefully grasping the tick with tweezers as close to the skin as possible and pulling the tick straight out.
  • Disinfect the site with soap and water, alcohol or hydrogen peroxide.
  • Keep grass well cut to minimize suitable habitat for ticks on your property.

Removing ticks as soon as possible can prevent or reduce the risk of infection, since blacklegged ticks can only transmit the bacterial infection after they have been attached to the skin for at least 24 hours.

Notifiable disease

Lyme disease is a notifiable disease under the Health Protection Act in Nova Scotia. Health-care professionals are required to report clinical or laboratory-confirmed Lyme disease cases to Public Health.

Bacterial illness

Lyme disease is a bacterial illness that can be transmitted to humans through the bite of a blacklegged tick, also known as deer tick. There are a number of tick species in Nova Scotia, but only the blacklegged tick can carry the bacteria that can cause Lyme disease.

Ticks stick to skin and feed on blood. A tick that carries the bacteria can only transmit Lyme disease after it has filled itself with blood, which takes at least 24 hours.

Not all blacklegged ticks carry the bacteria and the risk of acquiring Lyme disease remains low in the province. Lyme disease is readily treatable with appropriate antibiotics. The earliest and most common symptom of Lyme disease is a bull’s-eye rash at the site of the bite. Other symptoms include fever, fatigue, muscle aches and headaches.

Treatment

Early treatment with antibiotics almost always results in full recovery of Lyme disease. If left untreated, more serious symptoms or illnesses may develop. These include nervous system problems such as facial palsy, heart problems, or chronic joint problems such as arthritis. These symptoms, when caused by Lyme disease, can also be cured by antibiotics. Occasionally, arthritis may continue if antibiotics treatment is delayed too long. Lyme disease is rarely life threatening.

Ask your family doctor for information about treatment for Lyme disease. If you don’t have a family doctor, contact your local health authority to inquire about physicians in your area who are accepting new patients.

For up to date information on Lyme disease in Nova Scotia, visit:

Doctors Nova Scotia

Department of Health and Wellness

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