Forget about mosquitoes. This year, Canadians are keeping a watchful eye on ticks that have cropped up across the country — and not just in the woods and wilderness.
If you have a pet cat or dog, your risk of finding a tick on someone in your household doubles, a new U.S. study co-authored by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientists warns.
“Pet owners need to be aware of the risk and reminded to conduct daily tick checks on all household members and pets. They should also consult with their veterinarian regarding tick control products for their pets,” Dr. Alison Hinckley, an epidemiologist with the CDC’s division of vector-borne diseases, told Global News.
And then there’s risk from:
- vegetable gardens
- flower gardens
- compost piles
- log piles
- children’s play equipment
- outdoor sitting areas
“People should be aware that, in conjunction with pet ownership, these items may bring more rodents that carry ticks into the yard and closer to the home. This can increase the potential for human encounters with ticks,” she said.
Hinckley’s findings stem from a study in which she polled 2,727 families about their homes and how many pets they owned in 2011 and 2012.
The team followed up with the families monthly throughout the summer to ask how often they found a tick on a family member or on indoor and outdoor pets. They were even asked if anyone was diagnosed with tickborne diseases.
In the past, studies have tied owning pets to an increased risk of tickborne diseases.
She found that households that have a pet, such as a dog or a cat, double the risk of finding a tick on a family member. They were 50 per cent more likely to say they even saw a tick attached to a family member.
Pets could be carrying ticks on them, bringing them into the household. Birdfeeders, vegetable gardens and flower gardens could attract rodents that carry ticks, too, they added.
Right now, the research is in its preliminary stages. Hinckley plans on starting a new study to better understand the link between pet ownership and tick encounters.
The number of Lyme disease cases has shot up across Canada over the last seven years, from 144 in 2009 to a high of 917 in 2015. Blacklegged ticks carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, and transmit it to humans through bites. So, more reports of Lyme disease are partly due to more awareness, but also due to more ticks.
Unlike mosquitoes that can transfer West Nile to humans with a single bite, the tick has to be attached to the body for at least 24 to 36 hours, according to public health officials. That’s enough time for the bacteria in the insect’s gut to make its way into its human host.
Symptoms crop up within three to as long as 30 days: a rash at the site of the bite, headaches, fevers, muscle aches and chills.
These symptoms appear to be the onset of Lyme disease. The condition was first discovered in the late 1970s and was named after the town where the initial cases were diagnosed in – Lyme, Conn.
If it’s left untreated it could move onto the second stage of the disease.
The tick’s victim is left with multiple skin rashes, arthritis, heart palpitations and central and peripheral nervous system disorders.
A third and final stage is recurring arthritis and neurological problems, according to Health Canada.
The little insects may be the predominant culprit of Lyme disease but they’re also responsible for carrying at least three other disease-inducing agents.
If you get bitten by a tick, remove it carefully and hang onto the insect so that doctors can help decipher what type of tick bit you, the experts say.
How to protect yourself against ticks
- Wear light-coloured clothing. It makes ticks easier to see and remove before they can attach to feed.
- Wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, closed footwear and tuck your pants into your socks.
- Use a tick repellent that contains DEET. Apply it to your skin and outer clothing.
- Examine yourself thoroughly for ticks after a day out and use a mirror to check the back of your body.