The move to ‘active surveillance’ in the fight against Lyme disease

Near Kingston, ON – For the first time Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) Public Health Region is taking matters into its own hands by dragging for ticks, or ‘active surveillance.’

“Lyme disease has become established now in Eastern Ontario. This was not a concern 10 years ago and now it is a health concern,” said Dr. Ian Gemmill, Medical Officer of Health, KFL&A.

The move to active surveillance came after a meeting with officials from different health regions right across eastern Ontario.

“We have our staff going out to various areas in our health area and dragging along the ground for ticks to see if we can find them, where they are and what portion of them in a specific area are infected,” said Gemmill. “We plan to plot this on a geographical information system so we can watch this into the future and be able to inform ourselves and the public about whether this is a disease that is continuing to be a health concern, whether it’s receding or if it’s moving and revolving.”

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A total of five locations will be dragged. Some of the locations are known to have ticks carrying the Lyme disease causing bacteria, such as Parrot’s Bay Conservation Area.

The popular walking area does have a sign posted requesting visitors stay on the path and keep pets on leashes because wooded areas could contain ticks.

Only the black-legged tick can cause Lyme disease and it’s Public Health Ontario that confirms the species before the specimen is sent to the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg for Lyme disease testing.

“Ticks acquire the bacteria from feeding on white-footed mice and other small mammals,” said Dr. Katie Clow, veterinarian and Ph.D candidate at the University of Guelph.

Clow is helping drag for ticks with staff from KFL&A Health Region.

“There is a really big balance that we have to strike between educating people and not creating fear,” she said.

Clow said if a tick has been stuck to a person’s body for less than 24 hours they are not at risk of contracting Lyme disease, which is identified by a distinctive circular rash.

“When that bullseye rash appears that can still be treated we can make that infection go away. It takes longer and has to be treated with antibiotics, 2 – 3 weeks, but it can still go away,” she added.

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Undetected and untreated, Lyme disease can lead to joint pain and neurological problems but these ticks can also cause other health problems in people.

“We know that in the northern U.S. where there is a tick population there are other diseases, such as Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis that could very well end up becoming part of our reality here in Kingston,” said Adrienne Hansen-Taugher, manager of communicable disease and emergency preparedness at KFL&A Public Health.

There have been no suspected or confirmed cases of these diseases in Ontario according to the Centre for Disease Control.

Anaplasmosis can cause  difficulty breathing, hemorrhaging, and neurological problems.

Babesiosis, however, may not include any symptoms but infects and destroys red blood cells and can lead to Hemolytic Anemia.

There have been no reports of either of these diseases but with active surveillance underway there is a warning system of sorts.

“The first and most important thing is to avoid the tick if you can. Avoid the wooded areas and tall grasses, but you can’t always do that. So do a tick check,” said Dr. Gemmill.



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