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Online Discussion: Tracking new emerging diseases and the next pandemic

Hamilton: Lyme

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    Posted: June 11 2018 at 1:12pm
[I know I should have posted this in the "Select your State" forum, but I can't work out which Hamilton it refers to.  If you know, please feel free to move the post - or tell me where to stick it.]

Lyme disease carrying ticks have made a home in Hamilton

“Even people in urban Waterdown are finding ticks on them after just mowing the lawns,” says Flamborough veterinarian Jennifer Merry.

Hamilton's public health department is working on a tick management strategy following most of the city's designation as "estimated Lyme disease risk area."

Black-legged ticks — the kind that can carry the Lyme disease bacteria — have now established a home here.

"They are going through their life-cycle in our area, rather than just being dropped off (by animals and birds)," says Connie DeBenedet, Hamilton's acting vector-borne diseases manager.

Public health says the overall risk of human infection remains low, but is urging the public to learn more about ticks.

A 20 kilometre Hamilton radius of all parts of the city except eastern parts of Stoney Creek and Glanbrook is now a Lyme risk area.

For Lyme disease to be a human risk however, the tick must be of the black-legged kind, must have the Lyme disease bacteria, and feed on you for at least 24 hours, says DeBenedet. Not all blacklegged ticks carry Lyme disease.

While DeBenedet says ticks are most commonly found in wooded and tall grass areas, Flamborough veterinarian Jennifer Merry, of Clappison Animal Hospital, says anecdotally that "even people in urban Waterdown are finding ticks on them after just mowing the lawns."

"It's surprising to us. We thought it would just be on people and dogs walking the Bruce (trail)," she said. "My husband was changing tires in our driveway and he got a tick ... The birds are moving them around."

Merry says her clinic has seen a dramatic increase in ticks being brought in for identification and in people bringing in their dogs and asking staff to remove ticks from them.

"We used to see one or two ticks a year, but about three years ago, the numbers started to go up."

The clinic now sees four to five cases a week.

"The numbers are definitely skyrocketing. We get a lot of sandwich bags with ticks in them. We have a lot of black-legged ticks."

Public health is working on a management plan it hopes to have ready in the fall, to lower the risk of residents contracting Lyme disease.

"Unfortunately, ticks are very hard to control," says DeBenedet. "There are only two pesticides approved in Ontario. They are not very effective and the concern is they could affect pollinating insects. It's better to use an integrated pest management plan."

DeBenedet said the plan includes keeping city grass manicured at frequently used parks and sports fields. With black legged ticks being very tiny — some are the size of a poppyseed — the good news is they die easily in sunny areas on a typical field, she said.

"Ticks like to hide in tall grass and under leaf litter in cool and shady areas."

DeBenedet advises people to keep themselves and pets on walking trails and avoid walking through heavily wooded areas where the risk is greater.

Finding a tick on you or your dog can be quite frustrating, DeBenedet admits.

"We find hundreds and hundreds of American dog ticks." They are a nuisance but do not spread disease. The problem is ticks are very small, so it has been hard to tell the American dog ticks from the black-legged deer ticks, she adds.

The city has posted signs showing the difference between the two in busy city parks and walking trails, she said.

In 2017, residents brought in 892 ticks — 78 of them were black-legged, and of those, seven tested positive for Lyme disease, she said.

DeBenedet expects the numbers to grow slightly this year and afterwards, to continue to grow over time.

Rosa da Silva, McMaster University assistant biology professor, says it is important for people to be aware that Lyme disease carrying ticks are here to stay — partly because climate change bringing warmer weather has caused them to spread.

"But it's not a public health emergency. It's just a cautionary set of behaviours we need to take up as we enjoy the outdoors."


know where to expect ticks

wear light coloured clothing to easily see them

wear long sleeves, long pants in wooded areas

use repellents with DEET

do a skin check after being outdoors

use tweezers to remove. Try not to crush it while pulling out with a forceful, swift pull

know the signs of Lyme disease. See a doctor

Sources: DeBenedet and da Silva

905-526-3392 | @CarmatTheSpec

905-526-3392 | @CarmatTheSpec

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Absence of proof is not proof of absence.
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