Thunder Bay·Audio

Record number of ticks expected in northwestern Ontario this summer

The Thunder Bay District Health Unit will be actively searching for ticks in and around Thunder Bay this summer as they work to get northwestern Ontario named a region of risk for ticks and Lyme disease.

Warm winters contributing to increasing numbers of tick, Ken Deacon says

The blacklegged tick, or deer tick, spreads Lyme disease by attaching itself to any part of the human body, but is often found in hard-to-see areas such as the groin, armpits, and scalp. In most cases, the tick must be attached for 36-48 hours or more before the Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted. (CDC)
Entomologist Ken Deacon says this will be a bumper year for deer ticks and wood ticks. 6:38
The Thunder Bay District Health Unit will be actively searching for ticks in and around Thunder Bay this summer as they work to get the Northwestern Ontario named a region of risk for ticks and Lyme disease.

Ken Deacon, the health unit's vector-borne disease program coordinator, said he hopes the designation will increase awareness of the problem, particularly among health care providers.

"I think physicians need to take this seriously and have it on their checklist of things to eliminate," Deacon said. "Because if you come in with vague symptoms, it can be anything from a summer flu to 'come back later and the headache will go away'."

The growing number of ticks in the region means it's more likely that physicians will be running into Lyme disease, he said.

In the past, the health unit has tracked numbers of black-legged ticks — which can carry Lyme diease — by asking members of the public to turn in any ticks they find for analysis. If a black-legged tick is turned in, it's then sent away to determine if it carries the disease.

However, passive surveillance has problems when it comes to the region of risk designation the health unit is seeking, Deacon said.

"The problem with passive surveillance is there's always doubt as to where the tick was acquired but if you go out and find it yourself you know exactly where the tick was acquired," Deacon said. 

Still Deacon said the health unit continues to accept ticks for analysis.

60 ticks turned in since May 1

Since May 1 about 60 ticks have been turned in, he said, with about 20 of those being of the black-legged variety.

It's unknown if any of the black-legged ticks carried Lyme disease, however, as they're still being analyzed.

Deacon said there are more ticks this year because of the warm winter and he's predicting a record number this season.

"I anticipate that the number of black-legged ticks for 2016 is going to be as high as, or higher than, the highest we've ever seen, which was back in 2012, and there were 70 submitted for that season," he said.

If a person thinks they have been bitten by a black-legged tick, they should see a doctor, Deacon said.

If they do find a tick, however, removing it within 24 hours eliminates any risk of contracting Lyme disease, he said.

There have been no confirmed cases of Lyme disease in the Thunder Bay region this year.

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