Avoid be­ing bit­ten by ticks by camp­ing in drier ar­eas away from for­est

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FOOD/COMMUNITY - Dr. David Wong is a con­sul­tant pae­di­a­tri­cian in Summerside and re­cip­i­ent of 2012 Distin­guished Com­mu­nity Pae­di­a­tri­cian Award of Cana­dian Pae­di­atric So­ci­ety. His col­umn will ap­pear in the Guardian on the last Tues­day of ev­ery month.

Ques­tion: I have heard that Lyme dis­ease is be­com­ing more com­mon in Canada, es­pe­cially in the Mar­itimes where we live. Ev­ery sum­mer, our fam­ily spends sev­eral weeks in the woods; we en­joy it very much. I am wor­ried about this Lyme dis­ease, af­ter hear­ing some hor­ri­ble sto­ries in the media. I am con­sid­er­ing can­celling our camp­ing trip this year. Is there any way that we can pre­vent get­ting in­fected?

An­swer: It is true that Lyme dis­ease is be­com­ing more com­mon in Canada, es­pe­cially in the Mar­itimes. How­ever, if you ex­er­cise pre­cau­tion, you can re­duce the chance of in­fec­tion and en­joy the beau­ti­ful out­doors dur­ing our short Cana­dian sum­mer.

Lyme dis­ease is a bac­te­rial in­fec­tion caused by a spi­ral-shaped bac­terium called Bor­re­lia. It is spread by the Ix­odes ticks, also known as deer or black­legged ticks. These are mostly found in north­east­ern United States and in mid­west, but with global warm­ing, they have been spread­ing north into the Mar­itimes and On­tario. In some places, as much as half of the ticks are in­fected with Bor­re­lia.

For­tu­nately, the risk of con­tract­ing Lyme dis­ease is very low. Ex­ten­sive re­search was con­ducted mostly in United States in the last two decades. An in­fected tick has to bite and at­tach to our skin for at least 72 hours be­fore in­fec­tion can be­gin.

Af­ter in­fec­tion, most will de­velop fever, headache, mus­cle ache and a typ­i­cal rash af­ter around seven days, although this can be de­layed for 30 days. The rash is called ery­thema mi­grans (EM). It is round in shape, at the site of tick bite, and grad­u­ally in­crease in size to over 5 cm, some­times with a clear cen­tre. There is no pain or itch­ing, there­fore, it can be un­rec­og­nized if it is on the back or be­hind the knees. The rash can dis­ap­pear af­ter sev­eral weeks.

When un­treated, the in­fec­tion can spread to the heart, the brain, and the joints. Some de­velop ab­nor­mal heart rhythm and in­flam­ma­tion of the heart, oth­ers can have paral­y­sis of fa­cial mus­cles and menin­gi­tis. The knees are the most com­monly in­fected joints. Prompt an­tibi­otic treat­ment can re­sult in com­plete re­cov­ery.

The best way to pre­vent Lyme dis­ease is to avoid be­ing bit­ten by ticks. These are found in wooded ar­eas with dense shrub, and they re­quire mois­ture to sur­vive. Camp­ing in drier ar­eas away from the for­est can re­duce the chance of in­fec­tion.

Wear long-sleeve cloth­ing that cov­ers ex­trem­i­ties, as well as head and neck, can re­duce the chance of tick bite. Pants should be tucked into boots or socks; long-sleeve shirts should be but­toned at the cuff. Chem­i­cals like DEET and Per­me­thrin can be sprayed on cloth­ing to re­pel both ticks and mosquitoes.

Af­ter hik­ing, all cloth­ing should be re­moved and washed. Putting them in the dryer with high heat for one hour will kill the ticks. Take a shower to wash off any un­at­tached ticks. In­spect each other’s body for ticks, es­pe­cially in the head and neck, be­hind the ears, and on the back.

If ticks are found at­tached to the skin, they should be re­moved right away. Curved for­ceps or tweez­ers should be used to grasp the tick as close to the skin as pos­si­ble, and pulled straight out with­out twist­ing. The idea is to re­move the mouth­part of the tick with the body. If the mouth­part breaks off, it needs to be re­moved also, oth­er­wise it can still trans­mit Lyme dis­ease. Wash the skin with soap and wa­ter af­ter­wards.

The sooner you re­move any at­tached ticks, the less likely you can get in­fected. If there is con­firmed tick bite, you should con­sult your doc­tor for pro­phy­lac­tic an­tibi­otics. If you de­velop symp­toms of early in­fec­tion and EM rash, prompt treat­ment with an­tibi­otics can erad­i­cate the Bor­re­lia bac­te­ria.

If you have a dog, con­sult your vet­eri­nar­ian for prod­ucts that can pre­vent tick bite, and check for ticks daily. You shouldn’t be afraid to en­joy na­ture be­cause of Lyme dis­ease. Take the nec­es­sary pre­cau­tions and en­joy our short sweet sum­mer.

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