Are we prepared for this year’s Lyme tick onslaught?

By MPP Toby Barrett

With several sources predicting black-legged tick numbers – and by extension Lyme disease – on the rise, continued awareness and action are more important than ever.

Farmers, hunters, hikers, anglers, bird watchers or anyone spending time in the outdoors need to know how to avoid tick bites.

If you live in a wooded area keep the grass mowed short, trim bushes and tree branches to let in sun; create a border of gravel or woodchips between your yard and wooded areas; remove leaf litter, brush and weeds; place children’s playground equipment on woodchips or mulch.

Prevention and education go hand in hand. Being aware of Lyme, aware of the need to look for ticks and what to do if you find one, are some of the first steps in the battle. Prevention is nothing new. The important thing is to get the word out and maintain an ongoing educational campaign. Remember the importance of wearing light-coloured clothing so that you can see ticks; the use of DEET; avoiding tick-prone areas.

Double check yourself after being outside; wash or shower and dry thoroughly; check your pets.

Learn the difference between the very small black-legged tick (the deer tick) and the much larger dog tick.

Lyme disease has become the most common vector-borne disease in North America, with an estimated 300,000 cases annually in the United States.

In the early 1970s, the first population of blacklegged ticks in Canada was identified at Long Point.

Beginning in the mid-1990s and through the 2000s, additional established populations of blacklegged ticks were detected at Point Pelee National Park, Rondeau Provincial Park, Turkey Point Provincial Park, the Wainfleet Bog, Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area, St. Lawrence Islands National Park, Pinery Provincial Park, and near Rainy River in northwest Ontario.

Two years ago, I put tabled my private member’s bill: An Act to Require a Provincial Framework and Action Plan Concerning Vector-borne Diseases to tackle Lyme on several fronts. It passed in the Ontario Legislature with unanimous support.

The main thrust of the legislation: establish guidelines for the prevention, identification, treatment and management of emerging vector-borne diseases, including preparedness guidelines, the sharing of best practices and the acceleration of research. One goal is to create and distribute standardized educational materials for use by health care providers and by members of the public.

Surveillance is important to track the spread of the black-legged tick and make people aware of the range of these tiny arachnids. Although ticks may not be established in an area, individual ticks can appear after hitching a ride on a bird or a deer.

The sharing of best practices and the acceleration of research are vital. Hence the reason for my legislation.

Treatment and management of this disease is key and also controversial. There continues to be resistance within the medical community for examining certain approaches. As well, on the other side of it, there are many misconceptions out there, primarily on social media.

Kudos to the non-profit Gabe Magnotta Foundation for their work with respect to management and research, and the ongoing updates from Lyme Ontario and Ontario Lyme Alliance.

Lyme must be taken seriously. There are several hundred new cases a year. Stay informed and make sure your government is working for you.