If you’re camping with your family in Southern Ontario, or anywhere where there are migratory birds, you should be paying attention to the notices the Parks have about Lyme Disease. Lyme is a bacterial infection that is passed by deer ticks, and is largely spread by migratory bird. Although initially only found in Long Point and Point Pelee, Ontario, Health Canada says there are established blacklegged tick populations infected with Lyme disease at these parks1:
- Long Point Provincial Park
- Turkey Point Provincial Park
- Rondeau Provincial Park
- Pinery Provincial Park
- Rouge Valley
- Point Pelee National Park
- Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area
- Wainfleet Bog Conservation Area
- Thousand Islands National Park area.
Macleans Magazine ran an interesting article last year about Lyme Disease. They said that Lyme Disease is often going undiagnosed in Canada and doctors are not prepared to deal with it. If the disease is overlooked it then becomes Chronic Lyme Disease (CLD) which is difficult to cure. The Canadian medical system is not set up to deal with chronic diseases and generally ignores CLD as a diagnosis. In the USA “300,000 Americans are diagnosed with Lyme Disease each year, making it a tremendous public health problem.”2 Lyme Disease is spreading in Canada due to the change in the migratory patterns of birds in North America caused by climate change.
The deer ticks that cause Lyme disease are small blacklegged blood sucking critters that pass the disease to people and dogs. There is no commercially available test for Lyme disease, and most doctors base their diagnosis on the presence of the classic “bull’s-eye” rash which is often not present. When overlooked, Chronic Lyme Disease starts to look like other diseases, but the treatment for those diseases doesn’t work.
So you have someone who’s diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, lupus, fibromyalgia, or dementia being given the drugs for those diseases instead of antibiotics. When they are finally diagnosed with Lyme Disease they need to take much stronger antibiotics, which has more dangerous side effects, and could lead to drug resistant bacteria. Also, these treatments are currently unavailable in Canada and cost $30,000 or more in the US.
Regardless of how uncommon Lyme Disease is in Canada, going camping in areas like Southern Ontario makes it a much higher probability to get the disease. Hence you have to take some precautions (it’s also now considered an STD, though that’s highly unlikely):
Wear Long Pants and use DEET
Ticks don’t leap when you walk by them. They only latch when you’ve brushed against them. When you’re kids are running around in the forest or in long grasses that are known to have ticks, or where there are lots of migratory birds, have them wear long pants, socks and shoes. I don’t usually use DEET on my kids, but I do where ticks are found. The Watkins Insect Repellent Lotion with 28% DEET is great and doesn’t wear off like the spray repellents do, especially if you’re kids are in and out of the water a lot.
Check for Ticks
After your kids are done playing check them and your dog for any ticks. When a tick bites you it releases an anesthetic that numbs your skin so you won’t feel that you’re being bitten.
Take the ticks out carefully with tweezers, and put them in a jar to bring to your doctor for tests. Can’t find a jar? Put them in a sealed container or zip lock bag, label it, and put it in the glove compartment of your car so it doesn’t get lost. Don’t burn it. You’ll need the proof.
Bring Good Tweezers
Don’t squeeze the ticks because they could go further into the body. Instead keep sharp tweezers in your first aid kit, and pull them out gently, trying to keep the tick intact for later analysis. Try to distract your child because it’s pretty hard trying to get tweezers near a toddler without freaking them out.
If your child develops symptoms, you need to bring the tick with you to the doctor because it’s difficult to get tested for Lyme Disease3. A rash may occur, but that doesn’t mean the person has Lyme Disease. Instead, symptoms like the flu, a headache or fatigue will occur within a month. Unfortunately by then, you’ve forgotten about the bite, or may not have felt it because of the anesthetic the tick releases in its saliva. That’s why it’s most commonly misdiagnosed as the flu. In Avril Lavigne’s case the doctors misdiagnosed it as fatigue from being on tour. After a year she started treatment and says she is now feeling 80% better.4