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OPINION: Tiny ticks have become a big killjoy

Published on

George Mathewson

Deer ticks are on the rise, and that’s giving some Sarnians second thoughts about venturing into parks and woods and tall grass.

That something so small is having such a big impact on people’s behaviour is unfortunate.

Most ticks found in Sarnia-Lambton are dog ticks, which are gross enough. But deer tick numbers are growing, along with the risk of contracting debilitating Lyme disease.

Deer ticks, also known as blacklegged ticks, are hard to see. The smallest are the size of a fleck of black pepper, the largest the size of a sesame seed. Twenty year ago they were virtually unknown here.

What’s worse, the bite of a deer tick is virtually painless. You don’t feel it. Victims who contract Lyme often didn’t see the tick until it became engorged with blood from prolonged feeding.

I love the great outdoors, and have long thought of ticks – like poison ivy or mosquitoes – as the price of admission to out-of-the-way places.

I follow the advice of Lambton Public Health and tuck in cuffs, wear long-sleeved shirts and use insect repellent with DEET.

I also do a thorough “tick check” after every hike or camping trip. So far, all I’ve found are dog ticks not yet attached to the skin.

Nevertheless, the creepy thought lingers that a tiny, undetected tick could be unleashing a horrific disease into my bloodstream.

Lyme is an infection spread by ticks carrying the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. The corkscrew-shaped microbe, called a spirochete, can drill through tissue and embed itself in your central nervous system, organs, brain and joints.

Detected early, Lyme disease is easily treated with antibiotics. Undetected, it can produce a range of symptoms from dizziness to crippling paralysis to death.

Deer ticks don’t jump or fly. They hang out in tall grass and latch on when a person or pet brushes by.

Recently, a Sarnia mom used social media to alert parents after her daughter came home from a soccer game at Lottie Neely Park with five ticks on her clothing. Fortunately, all were the larger, safer dog ticks.

Last year, the number of ticks people found on themselves and submitted to Lambton Public Health more than doubled, to 380. Eleven percent of them were deer ticks.

Four deer ticks have been turned in so far this year, all found in or around Pinery Provincial Park, said Lori Lucas, supervisor of health protection.

There is no need for panic. Not all deer ticks carry the Lyme bacterium, and local human cases are still rare.

But the sad reality many people, myself included, are less keen these days to walk the paths less travelled.




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