As people and their pets spend time outdoors this summer, the Newfoundland and Labrador Animal Health Division of the Department of Natural Resources is reminding residents about the steps they can take to prevent tick bites which can lead to Lyme disease.
“Although the risk of contracting Lyme disease is much lower in Newfoundland and Labrador than in other parts of Canada, the tick that carries Lyme disease has been found here and confirmed in at least two cases of pet dogs, and we encourage residents to take precautions to prevent infection,” said Dr. Hugh Whitney, Chief Veterinary Officer.
The black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick, has become established in recent years in numerous sites in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The Animal Health Division, in cooperation with the public, and private small animal veterinary clinics, has been collecting samples found on dogs and cats across the province for many years to determine the level of risk and whether any permanent populations of these ticks have become established here.
In cooperation with Memorial University and the National Microbiology Laboratory (Public Health Agency of Canada, Winnipeg), expanded research and field work will be conducted in many areas of the province where it is suspected that a permanent population may have become established. This year, due to an increase in the number of ticks found in 2010, surveillance has been expanded to include the capture of incoming migratory songbirds in the Burgeo area to determine the degree to which these birds are carrying these ticks as they move north.
“As the population of these ticks increase in the Maritime provinces, the chances of permanent populations becoming established here also increases,” said Dr. Whitney.
When a tick finds a new animal or human host, it normally takes a few hours to attach and does not inject the bacteria causing Lyme disease until 24-36 hours after the start of feeding.
“Human Lyme disease is an infection that can produce general flu-like symptoms, which if not treated early can progress to a more serious systemic disease,” said Dr. Faith Stratton, Chief Medical Officer of Health. “Infected people will usually show a ‘bull’s eye’ rash around the site of the tick’s attachment, followed by fever, muscle and joint pain, headache and fatigue. Lyme disease is rarely fatal in humans, but can be very painful and may result in long-term medical problems if left untreated. Anyone who has been bitten by a tick is at risk and should seek medical attention if a skin lesion or other symptoms appears.”
To prevent infection the tick should be removed as soon as possible using a pair of tweezers. The tick should be preserved alive, if possible, in a small container with slightly damp cotton, and taken either to: a public health official if found on a person; veterinary clinic if found on a pet; conservation officer if found on a wild animal; or to the Animal Health Laboratory in St. John’s. The laboratory information will be used, not only to provide advice on any medical care required, but also to determine the Lyme disease risk in the province.
Dogs bitten by an infected tick are 50 per cent more likely to become affected than humans. Most black-legged ticks found in Newfoundland and Labrador have been on pet dogs. A dog’s symptoms of Lyme disease are fever, loss of appetite, acute lameness and sore joints. Small animal veterinary services should be sought immediately if you find a tick on your dog.
Individuals can prevent Lyme disease by examining exposed skin areas after walking in the woods, wearing long pants and sleeves and wearing insect repellent which contains DEET.