A relaxing afternoon reclining in her backyard with her dogs should have been just that — relaxing. Little did Michelle Snider know, however, they were also entertaining some unwanted, blood-sucking company: ticks she says — coming from her own backyard, in the suburban Long Branch area in west Toronto.
“I was literally picking six, seven of them off my dogs in a day,” said Snider. “And then they came into the house, and then I’m finding them on me, I had three on my back, one on my shoulder, one on my hip when I woke up.”
Snider took to Facebook to warn others of the ticks, posting video of the ones that latched onto her and her dog. She says she’s never seen them as bad as they have been this year.
“I have probably now 25 or so ticks that have bitten me and my dog,” said Snider.
And she’s not alone in her sentiments. Reports of ticks are on the rise, even in urban areas — along with concern over the diseases they may carry, like Lyme Disease, transmitted to humans through the bite of blacklegged ticks.
“The blacklegged tick has been increasing across Ontario — across Canada — particularly in the east,” said Robert Colautti, associate professor of biology at Queen’s University.
And the increase seems to be coinciding with a rise in Lyme cases, according to infectious diseases specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch.
“If you look at Canada, there’s a rise in Lyme disease year after year,” said Bogoch. “We are very likely seeing a greater range of the ticks that transmit Lyme, largely driven by climate change and expanding the range of ticks that are capable of transmitting this.”
Experts say the risk of ticks carrying the debilitating illness varies by region.
“In some cases, 68 to 80 per cent of the ticks in some specific locations will carry the Lyme disease. But in other areas, almost none of the ticks,” said Colautti.
In a statement, Toronto Public Health told Global News “the risk in Toronto of getting infected by a tick carrying Lyme is low” and that “the city has just begun it’s tick surveillance program for this year (so) it is too soon to tell if there are any trends in the number of ticks” — especially in the Long Branch area where Snider is from.
But for Snider, the proof is in the pudding.
“I’m losing it,” said Snider, exasperated. “I feel like they’re on me all the time. (I’m having) breakdown moments, I want to leave my house and move into a hotel — it’s that bad.”
Bogoch strongly encourages those spending time outdoors to do tick checks before heading inside.
“It’s really about having a good look at any exposed skin, and it’s often helpful to have someone else take a peek, especially on the backs of the legs, where you might miss one. They can be pretty small,” said Bogoch.
“You’ve got to get the head out — sometimes they can be buried in there…. It’s a decent piece of tweezers, it’s not that challenging to remove a tick. And if the tick is identified and removed in a short timeframe, the risk of transmission is remarkably low.”
To avoid ticks altogether, Toronto Public Health also encourages residents “to take precautions when hiking or walking in areas that are wooded or bushy with lots of leaves or in areas with tall grasses” and that includes measures such as “wearing long pants and sleeves and using insect repellent containing DEET or icaridin.”
Some areas of the city with tick populations known to carry Lyme disease are also available on the city’s website.