Beware the ‘silent evil’
By Jim Poling Sr.
Black flies and mosquitoes are true nuisances but at least you can see and hear them. A new danger developing in cottage country is one you usually don’t see – until it is too late. Blacklegged ticks are moving north and bringing Lyme disease. Lyme is an infection that can cause joint pain, memory loss and extreme tiredness. It can be a seriously debilitating disease affecting the brain and neurological tissue.
Blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks, used to be confined to southern Ontario – in fact mainly to the northeastern United States, until a warming climate allowed them to migrate north. Now they are found in wide areas across Canada.
In 2017, confirmed Canadian cases of Lyme disease totalled 2,025, an astounding increase from 144 cases in 2002. Ontario in 2017 had 959 confirmed or probable cases compared with only a couple of dozen or so back in 2002.
Various studies indicate that the ticks are advancing north by 35 to 55 kilometres a year. They are well established in the Barrie-Orillia region.
Ticks carrying Lyme disease are not yet a huge threat in cottage country. They are moving steadily in our direction, however, and people should be building awareness, learning how to avoid them and how to examine themselves and their pets for ticks attached to their skin.
The Ontario government has advised that areas not known to have ticks are not necessarily free of them.
“While the probability is low, it is possible to find an infected tick almost anywhere in Ontario,” says a government website on Lyme disease.
Examining your body for ticks after being in the woods is an important habit to develop. Unlike mosquitoes, which can infect you with West Nile disease with a single bite, ticks need time to pass along Lyme disease.
Also a tick gives off an anaesthetic while feeding on your blood so you do not feel its bite.
Medical experts say a tick has to be attached to your body for a day or more to get Lyme disease into your blood. So examining yourself promptly after being in the woods and removing any ticks is important in reducing the risk of being infected.
Ticks attached to your skin are not obvious. They can look like a small black dot, often the size of a poppy seed.
Awareness of tick and Lyme disease dangers has been helped by the experiences of two Canadian entertainers. Shania Twain lost her ability to sing because of a condition she says was brought on by Lyme disease.
She was bitten by a tick in Norfolk, Virginia in 2003 and was diagnosed as having Lyme disease. Later she developed dysphonia, which affects vocal chords and is believed to be caused by problems in brain tissue. She was told that this was related to Lyme disease.
She had surgery to correct the condition and took a 15-year break from the music business. She calls the disease a silent evil and urges people to be aware and cautious.
“You’ve got to check out where you are and whatever region you’re in, and what the rate of Lyme disease is in the region, if you’re going to go out in nature,” she told an interviewer in 2017.
She is not the only high-profile person to contract the disease. Canadian singer Avril Lavigne was bedridden for five months after being bitten by a Lyme-infected tick in 2014.
Lavigne has said she felt fatigued and lightheaded for months until finally being diagnosed with the disease and treated.
“I felt like I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t talk, and I couldn’t move,” she said in a People magazine interview. “I thought I was dying.”
Also, in 2006 former U.S. President George W. Bush got the disease from a tick while riding his mountain bike. It was caught early and treated successfully.
Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer, has said most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully but the key is to be aware.
“Lyme disease is preventable,” he said in a recent news release. “That is why we are encouraging Ontarians to learn how to be safe and prevent tick bites. These simple precautions are the best defence for you and your family.”