The Casket

Tick safety for a longer season

- ANGELA MACNEIL Angela Macneil is a pharmacist and owner of three Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacies in Halifax and Bedford, N.S.

Have you ever been bitten by a tick or do you know someone who has?

Unfortunat­ely, ticks are becoming more and more prevalent here in Nova Scotia as well as across Canada. With last winter being unseasonab­ly mild, the current tick season has already been longer and more intense than usual since more tick population­s were able to survive through the winter.

Although any insect bite may be unpleasant, it’s especially important not to ignore a tick bite. There are more than 40 different kinds of ticks, but the species of main concern in Nova Scotia is the black-legged (deer) tick, as these are carriers of Lyme disease as well as other, rarer, tick-borne infections.

According to Health Canada, in 2019, Nova Scotians had the highest incidence of Lyme disease in the country, with more than 85 cases per 100,000; 12 times higher than the national average of seven cases per 100,000.

It can be difficult to avoid ticks as they can be found in many areas that are frequented by people. Those at greatest risk of tick-borne infections include anyone who spends considerab­le time outdoors, especially in the woods or in areas with tall grasses. But you could also potentiall­y encounter a tick at a park, on the golf course and even in your own backyard.

The good news is that under the scope of practice in Nova Scotia, pharmacist­s like myself and my colleagues at Shoppers Drug Mart locations across the province are now able to assess tick bites and treat with a prescripti­on, if needed. Patients can even be seen by a pharmacist without an appointmen­t, meaning you can just walk in and be assessed on the spot. And the cost of the assessment is covered for anyone with a Nova Scotia health card.

Being assessed as soon as possible by a health-care profession­al is key because studies have shown that post-exposure prophylact­ic treatment to prevent Lyme disease (taking an antibiotic if you know you have been bitten by a blacklegge­d tick) is more than 90 per cent effective. A tick must be attached to the skin for at least 24 hours in order to transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, so it’s important if you’re bitten to seek treatment right away.

Checking for ticks whenever you or a pet have spent time outside is critical. If you see an attached tick, remove it yourself as soon as possible using clean, fine-point tweezers to grasp the head as close to the skin as possible and slowly pull it straight out. Do not twist or squeeze the tick, as you want it to stay intact. Wash the bite area with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer. If you

plan to visit a pharmacist or other health-care practition­er, save the tick in a sealable plastic bag or small container and record the date and location of the bite, as well as where on your body you were bitten, to bring with you.

There are many ways you can reduce your risk of tick bites. These include simple precaution­s such as wearing light-coloured clothing that covers as much of your skin as possible (so ticks are easier to see and less likely to find their way onto your body) and applying insect repellent containing DEET to exposed areas.

It’s also a good idea to remove tick habitats around your own home by mowing often to keep grass short and employing other simple landscapin­g tips. People with pets should also talk to their veterinari­an about tick-prevention products as pets can easily bring ticks into your yard or inside the home.

Ticks are being seen more and more in many parts of Canada and Nova Scotia is definitely a major hot spot. In fact, the provincial government’s website notes all parts of the province are now considered higher risk for tick bites.

Overall, the long-term risk of human infection caused by tick bites is increasing in Canada due to factors such as changes in climate increased time spent outdoors and the abundance, activity and range of ticks and hosts such as deer and pets.

With tick seasons becoming more intense, starting earlier and lasting longer into the fall, public awareness of the risk and the ability of local pharmacist­s to be able to assess and treat tick bites can help ensure timely care and prevention of Lyme disease here in Nova Scotia. It’s a great example of how pharmacist­s are working within the larger health-care system to make patient care more efficient and effective for all of us. If you or a loved one is bitten by a tick, please don’t hesitate to visit your local pharmacy in Nova Scotia.

 ?? PUBLIC HEALTH AGENCY OF CANADA ?? Black-legged ticks are shown at different stages of feeding. Black-legged ticks, also known as deer ticks, carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
PUBLIC HEALTH AGENCY OF CANADA Black-legged ticks are shown at different stages of feeding. Black-legged ticks, also known as deer ticks, carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

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