A public health official gives advice on how best to avoid ticks and reduce your risk of contracting Lyme disease
By Jackie Clark
As we move farther into the warm months, farmers are protecting their crops from pests and their livestock from pathogens. They can also take steps to protect themselves.
To prevent illness associated with ticks, farmers should first avoid environments where they live, secondly use personal protection if they must go into those environments, and finally check for ticks after being in those environments, Dr. Curtis Russell told Farms.com. He’s an entomologist at Public Health Ontario.
“We have many different species of ticks in Ontario, but when we’re talking about the risk of Lyme disease the only species we’re really concerned about in Ontario is called the black-legged tick, sometimes also known as the deer tick,” Russell said.
Ticks “feed on migratory birds,” he explained. The birds “can bring them to almost anywhere in Ontario.”
So, farmers should practice tick safety regardless of where they live and work.
“However, the areas where we do seem to see more establishment and larger populations of these ticks are southern Ontario along the north shore of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, along the St. Lawrence river, and we do have pockets up in the northwestern areas of Ontario, kind of near the Kenora and Rainy River neck-of-the-woods,” Russell said.
The first line of defence is to avoid places that make good tick habitats.
If ticks “dry out or desiccate, they die, so they need some moist environment to go into when it gets too hot out,” Russell explained. Areas with brush or leaf litter make good homes for ticks.
“We typically see them in deciduous and mixed deciduous habitats because they have that leaf litter,” he added. People are less likely to come into contact with ticks on manicured lawns or gravel trails.
“Ticks they don’t necessarily crawl to you, they crawl on the vegetation and they wait for you to walk by,” he said. “If you’re hiking but you stay in the middle of the trail, there may be a lot of ticks in that area, but you may not come into contact with them.”
If you do need to work in brushy, grassy or wooded areas of your property, “try to wear light-coloured and long-sleeved clothing,” Russell said. “Ticks are dark, so if they’re crawling on you, you have a greater chance of seeing them.”
Also “tuck everything in,” he added. “Tuck your pants into your socks, tuck your shirt into your waist, wear long sleeves. The ticks have a long way to crawl before they can get onto your skin. We also recommend wearing bug spray. The ones that are approved in Ontario are DEET or icaridin, and recently permethrin treated clothing has also been approved, which also works really well.”
When checking for ticks, pay attention to access points like sleeves and the back of the neck, and high blood-flow areas like armpits and groin.
“When you go home, have a shower or bath relatively soon. If there’s a tick on you and they haven’t fed yet you can wash them off, or you can check those areas of your body that are difficult to check,” Russell said. “Check around hairlines, armpits, the backs of your legs, buttocks and groin area. I know it’s difficult, but those are the areas you really need to check for these ticks.”
Many “people don’t realize how small these ticks are,” he added. “Usually in the spring and fall, when the adult black-legged ticks are out, and they’re roughly the size of a sesame seed. In the summer months the nymphs are out and they’re the size of a poppy seed.”
If you happen to find a tick “the best thing you can do is to take it to your healthcare provider or check with your local health unit,” Russell explained. Public health officials can give you information on species identification and testing. Farmers can also submit high resolution photos to etick.ca to identify tick species.
Pay attention to how you feel after exposure to ticks regardless of species, Russell added. You may have missed a black-legged tick that was smaller or in a hard-to-see part of your body.
“If you’re concerned about your health or anything, please see a healthcare provider,” he said.
In addition to Lyme disease, “we do test the black-legged ticks for a couple of other pathogens,” he explained. However, the incidence of those other potential illness-causing pathogens are low.
“The activities you do to reduce your chances of getting Lyme are the same. Don’t get in contact with those ticks,” he added.
Farmers can make their rural properties less suitable for ticks by cutting back brush and trimming grass, Russell said.
“Between your lawn and wooded areas, you can put a one metre wide swath of woodchips, that’s a dry natural barrier that ticks don’t like crawling through,” he added.
ViktorCap\iStock\Getty Images Plus photo