Ticks top of mind as risk of Lyme disease intensifies

With news this month that Ottawa has become an at-risk area for Lyme disease, residents are taking special measures to avoid transmission.

1 in 5 ticks collected in Ottawa in 2016 tested positive for Lyme disease

Ottawa has been declared an at-risk area for Lyme disease, which can be transmitted by ticks. (AFP/Getty Images)

With news this month that Ottawa has become an at-risk area for Lyme disease, residents are taking special measures to avoid transmission, and that means being on guard for ticks.

Ticks are the tiny arachnids that can spread the disease. They're often found in long grass near wooded areas. Lyme disease can cause facial palsy, liver damage and other health problems in humans. 

It's something people are starting to talk about more.- Sarah Cybulski, OSCA camp coordinator

Twenty per cent of the ticks collected by the city in 2016 tested positive for Lyme disease, lending the city the at-risk designation.

Sarah Cybulski runs the Old Ottawa South Community Association's camps. She said last year, she received more questions from parents about bears than about ticks. She's pretty sure that won't be the case this year.
The Old Ottawa South Community Association is adding a section on tick awareness to its summer program guide.

"It's something people are starting to talk about more," said Cybulski, whose best friend contracted Lyme disease. "You don't really think that it's something you're going to get. But it's pretty close to home for me, so I'm educating my staff about it."

For the first time, Cybulski has included a section on ticks and Lyme disease in this years's OSCA camp program guide. Campers are advised to wear long pants and closed-toe shoes on hikes, and to check themselves for ticks at the end of the day. Parents are also advised to check their kids, including their clothes.

Dog owners concerned, too

At Wag Café Boutique and Dog Lounge in Old Ottawa South, co-owner Dayna Desmarais said her customers are also concerned and looking for solutions.
Wag Café Boutique and Dog Lounge co-owner Dayna Desmarais says her customers are showing a lot of concern over ticks and Lyme disease. (Mario Carlucci/CBC)

"We get customers coming in on a regular basis, asking us for natural flea and tick remedies that they can spray or apply to their dogs ," said Desmarais. "I've had two so far coming in asking for help to remove a tick, which thankfully, I know how to do. I try to take the time to educate them on how to do it properly. Then usually we're referring them to the vets." 

Desmarais said daily vigilance is the key, for both pets and people.
Dog owners should regularly check their pets for ticks. (Getty Images)
"When you get home for a walk, do a full pat down of yourself and your dog," she said. "Check everywhere. Even in between the toes. People are finding ticks in between the pads of the feet. In the ears especially too, ticks are crawling around. If you have a long-haired dog maybe keep a brush on hand at home and take a comb through their fur just in case."
The City of Ottawa is distributing free tick removal tools similar to this one, which is sold at Lee Valley Tools. (Lee Valley Tools)

Demarais is hoping her business can become a distribution point for the tick removal keys being provided for free by the City of Ottawa. They're also a hot item at Lee Valley Tools, where they sell for $8.95.

According to Ottawa Public Health, the risk doesn't exist just in rural areas. The health agency has received 53 tick submissions from the public so far this year, and some have come from urban parks.

The city tests submitted ticks for Lyme disease to assess the risk of acquiring the infection each year.