Columns and Letters

Column: All regions of Nova Scotia at risk for Lyme disease

May 25, 2022 

-by Bonnie MacIsaac
    Whether you are working around your yard or walking the trails we should be taking some precautions against ticks. The most active time for the black-legged tick that carries the Lyme bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi) is from late March to the end of June and from early October to mid-December.    
    However, new research presented at the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology’s 2022 annual meeting has revealed that black-legged ticks carrying Lyme disease flourish in below-freezing weather, reports Science’s Elizabeth Pennisi. In Nova Scotia, this means that ticks can be active 12 months of the year as we usually have at least a couple of nice days each month.
    And the numbers have been growing over the past several years in our province and the statistics are alarming! Cases of Lyme disease in Nova Scotia almost doubled in 2017 from the previous year, jumping to 586 from 325. Nova Scotia had the highest per capita Lyme disease infection rate in the country at 34.4 infections per 100,000 people, according to Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) numbers. That amounts to 12.7 times the national average.
    In 2019, there were 830, up from 454 in 2018. The number of confirmed/probable cases of Lyme disease in Nova Scotia has not been reported since 2019. (The COVID-19 pandemic taking priority.) PHAC lists all regions of Nova Scotia at risk for Lyme disease, the only province in the country with that distinction.
    The bacterium is normally carried by mice, squirrels, birds, and other small animals. It can be passed to humans when ticks feed on infected animals, become infected themselves, and then bite people.
    These ticks vary in size and colour, depending on their age and whether they have been feeding. Before feeding, they are about 3-5 mm in length, and are red and dark brown in colour. Young ticks in the pre-adult stages are smaller and lighter-coloured. When they are full of blood, adult female ticks can be as large as a grape. You are most likely to come into contact with ticks by brushing against vegetation. When a tick bites you, it becomes attached to your skin by its mouth parts.
Minimizing your risk
    If you are going to spend time outdoors in wooded areas or tall grass that may be tick-infested:
– Wear light-coloured long-sleeved shirts and pants. The light colours will help you see whether there are any ticks on you. Tuck your shirt into your pants, and pull socks up over your pant legs. This will help keep ticks away from your bare skin.
– Wear shoes that cover your entire foot. Avoid sandals or open shoes.
– Spray clothing and exposed skin with an insect repellent that contains DEET. Read and follow the manufacturer's directions for safe use.
– After finishing your outdoor activity, check your clothing and your entire body for any attached ticks.
– And, check your pets regularly for ticks!
If you find a tick attached to your skin:
– Use tweezers to remove it. Grasp the tick's head and mouth parts as close to your skin as possible, and pull slowly until the tick is removed. Be careful not to twist, rotate or crush the tick during removal.
– After removing the tick, use soap and water to wash the spot where you were bitten. You may also disinfect the bite area with alcohol or household disinfectant.
– Try to save the tick in an empty pill vial or a doubled zip-lock bag. If you develop any symptoms of Lyme disease, the tick can be sent to a laboratory for identification, and this may help diagnose your illness. It may also help public health workers identify areas of higher risk for Lyme disease.
– Contact your health care provider right away if you develop a rash or any other symptoms of Lyme disease. Or, The Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists has given pharmacists the green light to prescribe Lyme disease prevention medication to try and take pressure off clinics and emergency rooms as nearly all counties in Nova Scotia are now considered to be high or moderate risk for Lyme disease due to the increase in blacklegged ticks.
How can you reduce the number of blacklegged ticks around your home?
    You can’t get rid of ticks completely, but you can reduce the number with landscaping and yard maintenance.
– Prune bushes and trees to let in sunlight and air.
– Keep lawns mowed short.
– Remove leaf litter.
– Clear tall grasses and brush around your home and at the edge of your lawn.
– Put children’s swings, slides, and sand boxes in sunny dry places away from yard edges and trees.
– Place wood chips or gravel between your lawn and any wooded areas. This will stop ticks from moving into areas used by family and pets.
– Keep the ground under bird feeders clean. Place feeders in dry sunny places away from your house.
– Add hard surfaces, like decking, stone, tiling, or gravel, around your house and property. Use these surfaces for outdoor activities.
– Keep your woodpile neat, dry, off the ground, and away from your house.
The symptoms and health effects of Lyme disease:
     Although the symptoms and health effects will vary from one person to the next, Lyme disease is often described in three stages. The first sign of infection is often a circular rash. This rash occurs in about 70-80 per cent of infected people and begins at the site of the tick bite after a delay of three days to one month. Additional symptoms may include fatigue, chills, fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes. If untreated, the disease progresses into the second stage which can last several months. Symptoms of this stage include migraines, weakness, multiple skin rashes, painful or stiff joints, abnormal heartbeat and extreme fatigue. If the disease continues to progress, the third stage of Lyme disease can include symptoms such as chronic arthritis and neurological symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, numbness, and paralysis.
– Fatalities from Lyme disease are rare. However, if contracted during pregnancy, Lyme disease can pose serious health risks to the baby, including stillbirth.
– Lyme disease can be treated effectively with antibiotics. A full recovery is more likely when treatment begins in the early stages of the disease. Undiagnosed Lyme disease may develop into chronic illness that can be difficult to treat.
– There is no evidence that Lyme disease can spread from person-to-person. Although cats and dogs can get Lyme disease, there is no evidence that they can pass the infection to people. Pets can, however, carry infected ticks into your home or yard.
    Thanks to Health Canada and NS Public Health for this timely information. Check out their websites for a wealth of information on this topic. Enjoy getting outdoors but do keep in mind to take the precautions. Every season can be tick season!
A sure sign of spring is of course - fiddleheads! Health Canada is reminding Canadians of the importance of properly cooking fresh fiddleheads before eating them.
    Fiddleheads are the curled, edible shoots of the ostrich fern. They are collected along the banks of rivers and streams and sold as a seasonal vegetable at farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and in some grocery stores.
    There have been cases of temporary illness in Canada and the United States associated with eating raw or undercooked fiddleheads. Studies to date have not determined the cause of these illnesses.
    Fiddleheads should never be eaten raw. Prior to cooking, Health Canada recommends removing as much of the brown husk as possible from the fiddleheads. Fresh fiddleheads should then be washed in several changes of clean cold water. Cook them in boiling water for 15 minutes or steam them for 10 to 12 minutes. The water used for boiling or steaming fiddleheads should be discarded. Fiddleheads should also be boiled or steamed prior to sautéing, frying, or baking. Due to their short growing season, many people freeze fiddleheads. Be sure to use the same cooking methods outlined above when preparing fiddleheads that have been frozen. Preserving fiddleheads with a pressure canner is not recommended, as safe process times have not been established for home-preserved fiddleheads.
    Symptoms of illness usually begin 30 minutes to 12 hours after eating raw or undercooked fiddleheads and may include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and headaches. Illness generally lasts less than 24 hours but can result in dehydration, particularly among the elderly and in infants. There have been no reported cases of illness associated with eating fully cooked fiddleheads.
    Anyone experiencing the above symptoms after consuming fiddleheads should seek the advice of a health care professional and contact their local public health unit.
    It is estimated that there are approximately 11 million cases of food-related illnesses in Canada every year. Many of these cases could be prevented by following proper food handling and preparation techniques.































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