Once relatively rare in Canada, black tickling ticks are moving across large parts of the country, bringing with them the threat of Lyme disease.
They’re moving fast – between 35 and 55 km per year, according to Nick Ogden, director of the public health risk sciences division at the Public Health Agency of Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory.
“The ticks started to expand in the U.S. in the 1960s, 1970s and continue to do so, “he said. They got picked up by migratory birds and other animals and carried northward.
“I KNOW THERE IS SOME SORT OF TIME AND THAT’S ALL WE NEED.”
At first, he said, the ticks didn’t stay. It was too cold. “By and large, Canada has been climatically unsuitable for the ticks but in recent decades Southern Canada has warmed, making it much better for ticks to set up home once they are dropped in by migratory birds.”
Now, people in parts of Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and pretty much all of Nova Scotia face a risk of Lyme disease. Parts of B.C. do, too, though it’s two different species of ticks that got there earlier.
And where the ticks are, Lyme disease follows. The number of reported cases rose from just 144 in 2009 to 2.025 in 2017, according to PHAC.
In Ontario, new Lyme disease risk areas include Thunder Bay and the peel region, though all tick ranges have expanded, said Curtis Russell, senior program specialist with Public Health Ontario. Ticks have also cemented themselves firmly in the Ottawa area, where he said.
In Quebec, Gatineau and the southwestern part of the Outaouais, the northwest of the Estrie region, parts of Montérégie, the southwest of Mauricie and Center-du-Quebec are all known areas for Lyme disease, according to the province.
In Manitoba, risk areas include the southern part of the province, like Winnipeg, Brandon, Portage la Prairie, Selkirk and Sprague.
Lyme disease risk areas in Manitoba.
Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living
The southern half of New Brunswick, including the counties around Fredericton, Saint John and Moncton, are all marked as Lyme disease risk areas.
Lyme disease risk areas in New Brunswick.
Government of New Brunswick
The entire province of Nova Scotia is also a risk area for Lyme disease.
Lyme disease risk areas in Nova Scotia.
Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness
“Just because you’re in a risk area doesn’t mean that the ticks are everywhere,” Russell said. Ticks prefer wooded areas, and you are unlikely to encounter them in the middle of a soccer field in Ottawa, for example.
“WE USUALLY FIND THEM IN DECIDUOUS FORESTS OR MIXED DECIDUOUS FORESTS BECAUSE THERE ARE LEAVES TO GO DOWN INTO WHEN IT GETS HOT.”
Ticks out in the middle of a grassy field, Ogden said, which is why they don´t like especially hot, dry weather. While there was a lot of problems with Canada.
“If there is a particularly cold year, then again the ticks are not quite as active and often people don’t go out quite as much,” Ogden said.
The best way to prevent it. Lyme disease is to get bitten by a tick in the first place. If you are going to wooded, brushing area, you brush that brush up against you, Russell said.
You should also wear long pants and sleeves, preferably in a light color you can easily see any tick that crawl on, he said. Wearing insect repellent containing DEET or icaridin will also help off ticks and mosquitoes.
“Not every tick leads to Lyme disease, but it is important to get ticks off of you quickly,” said Dr. Kieran Moore, chief medical health officer for Kingston, ONT., Which had Lyme disease cases since about 2006.
“THEY WANT TO HAVE A GOOD MEAL. DON’T EAT ANY OF THEM. THEY’RE JUST GETTING BIGGER AND BIGGER, LIKE A JUICY RAISIN ON YOU , AND THEN FALL OFF. “
The longer they are on, the higher the chance of the tick transmitting Lyme disease, Moore said. So, doing a daily tick check is important if you are spending time outside. You should examine your whole body carefully, since ticks may be as small as a poppy seed.