For those who hike, bike, paddle and climb, wearing the proper footwear, helmet or personal floatation device is essential. Beyond these basic steps though, there is another important way to stay safe in the outdoors: avoiding tick encounters. The Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation, CanLyme, is passionate about preventing tick encounters and Lyme disease.
Ticks Can Be Stealthy
Ticks can be as small as a poppy seed, and they can be very stealthy. They hang out on blades of grass, leaves and other plants waiting for a host to attach to, and can make it all the way to a person’s scalp without being noticed. Because ticks inject an anesthetic before they become embedded, many people don’t even recall seeing or feeling a tick, even after it has become attached. You may find a tick by feeling it with your hands, seeing it on your body or having someone else see it on your body. If you do find an embedded tick, you are fortunate because you can remove it properly, identify what kind of tick it is and have it tested. Although ticks in some areas of Canada are more likely to carry Borrelia burgdorferi, the pathogen that causes Lyme disease, ticks can be found in virtually any region of the country.
Prevention is Key
Being tick aware and taking a few important precautions can greatly reduce your chance of an unwanted tick encounter. Staying on trails or pathways is best, but not always possible, especially for children and pets. Using an effective insect repellent also helps to keep ticks from latching on. Choosing the right repellent can depend on personal preference, age and even environmental considerations. Look for repellents that have been properly tested and approved, choose a repellent that you will be most likely to use and, most importantly, remember to use it! It’s a good idea to keep a small container of repellent in your backpack. Ticks are easier to spot on light-coloured clothing, and tucking your pants into your socks can help as well. You can also purchase clothing that has been pre-treated with permethrin.
Make Time for Tick Checks
Some of the steps you can take at home, such as placing your clothes in the dryer to kill ticks or taking a shower after being outside, are not always possible when you’re camping. Making daily tick checks part of your outdoor routine can greatly reduce the chance of contracting Lyme disease. It’s important to check everywhere, including your scalp and other hiding places like your armpits, groin, behind your knees and even your belly button. Feel the back of your arms, legs and scalp. Have someone else check your back. Don’t forget to check your kids and pets, especially after they’ve been exploring off the beaten path.
Tick Removal, Identification and Testing
If you do find an attached tick, it’s important to remove it correctly as soon as possible. Don’t forget to keep the tick! It’s helpful to take photos, too. CanLyme has a Tick Removal Kit that is easy to find in your pack, first aid kit or car, and contains everything you need to safely remove, identify and store a tick for further identification and testing. If you don’t have a tick removal kit, carry a pair of fine tipped tweezers and a zip lock bag to store the tick in. It’s important to know what kind of tick you have because different types of ticks can carry different types of pathogens. You can also have the tick tested. Geneticks.ca is a Canadian tick testing company that provides timely results for many of the pathogens that ticks can carry.
Diagnosing Lyme Disease: Know the Signs
If you have been bitten by a tick, be on alert for the early signs of Lyme disease; symptoms can be mistaken for the flu. The first symptoms can include fever and chills, muscle or joint pain, headache, a rash and fatigue. Although not everyone has a rash after a tick bite, it’s important to check everywhere on your body for one. An expanding rash that may or may not look like a bullseye can help with early diagnosis. Although blood tests for Lyme disease can help with diagnosis, a negative test doesn’t always mean you don’t have the infection. False negatives are possible at any time, but especially in the weeks before your body has produced antibodies. Diagnosing Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses is not always straightforward. Information about your symptoms, where you’ve been and when, and even tick and rash photos can help your doctor diagnose Lyme disease in a clinical setting. Undiagnosed and untreated Lyme disease can be complex and life altering, making early diagnosis and proper treatment even more important.
Education, Advocacy and Research for a Better Future
For many reasons, getting a diagnosis and adequate treatment for Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses is not always straightforward. Find out more about diagnosis and treatments at CanLyme.com. CanLyme is passionate about engaging with national and international scientific communities to promote a more complete and comprehensive understanding of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. CanLyme educates and advocates online through social media and the Looking at Lyme podcast. CanLyme also engages with communities across Canada through awareness and fundraising events and campaigns and healthcare providers with education grants. Subscribe to the newsletter and stay connected.
Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation (CanLyme) promotes a more complete and comprehensive understanding of Lyme disease and related illnesses through research, education and advocacy to help reduce misdiagnosis and improve treatments for Lyme disease.
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