Adapted from an article on Lyme disease by the Mayo Clinic
People love to walk in nature. It fills our senses; it calms and heals our bodies and our minds. This is especially true for people who suffer from environmental sensitivities, who are always looking for secluded areas in which to walk, so that they can avoid scents, bug sprays, traffic exhaust, etc. While it is very important to go out into nature, it is essential to take certain precautions in order to avoid being bitten by a tick that carries Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness in North America and Europe, and is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Deer ticks, which can harbour the bacteria, feed on the blood of animals and humans and can transfer the bacteria when feeding. In the past, Lyme disease has not been a concern in Québec, as deer ticks were not found this far north. However, with the increase in temperatures, ticks are more commonly found in our forests, and occurrences of Lyme are on the rise. Ticks climb on to low trees, shrubs and tall grass so that they can attach themselves to animals passing by. They are mostly active from spring to fall.
Ticks are brown and young forms may be no bigger than the head of a pin, which can make them difficult to spot. They attach themselves to a host and feed until they are swollen to many times their original size. To contract Lyme disease, you must be bitten by an infected tick. Before the bacterium is transmitted, the tick must take a ‘blood meal,’ which takes more than 48 hours.
Removing the tick quickly may prevent infection. Do this carefully with tweezers. Grasp the tick firmly near its head or mouth (as close to the skin as possible), and pull gently to remove the whole tick. Place the tick in a glass jar to show your doctor. Wash your hands and the area bitten with soap and water. If you are not able to completely remove the tick, go to the hospital.
It is essential to take certain precautions when you plan to walk in the forest or in the tall grass surrounding a forest.
- Keep to the path and try not to stray into the forest. Keep your dog on a leash.
- Wear long sleeves and long pants. Pull your socks over your pants so that if a tick falls on your shoes, it cannot climb up under your pants.
- Tie your hair to keep it off your neck and wear a hat (preferably with your hair tucked into it). Or, in spring and autumn, wear a turtleneck.
- Shower as soon as you come indoors. Use a washcloth – ticks can remain on your skin for hours before attaching themselves.
- Check yourself, your children and your pets for ticks – remember, they may be as small as the head of a pin!
- CContact your doctor immediately if you see the classic “bulls-eye” rash.
- Tick-proof your yard: cut and clear brush and leaves. Place your firewood in a sunny area.
If you know you have been bitten, contact your doctor immediately. Take the tick with you, if possible. Early treatment is most effective. Not all ticks are infected, and not all bites lead to Lyme disease. The longer the tick is attached to your skin, the greater your risk of getting Lyme disease.
- Rash: can develop from a few days to a month before you have any other symptoms. At the site of the bite, a small red bump may appear. Redness expands over the next few days, and a bull’s-eye pattern is formed with a red outer ring surrounding a clear area.
- Flu-like symptoms: Fatigue, headache, body aches, fever and chills may accompany the rash.
- Migratory joint pain: Several weeks to months after you have been infected, if the infection is not treated, you may develop bouts of severe joint pain and swelling. Especially likely to be affected are your knees, but the pain can move from one joint to another.
- Neurological problems: In some cases, an untreated infection can result in neurological problems even after many years. The symptoms include temporary paralysis of one side of the face (Bell’s palsy), numbness or weakness in the limbs, impaired muscle movement or even inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain (meningitis).
- Other less common signs and symptoms which could occur several weeks after an infection but rarely last for up to a week could be: heart problems such as an irregular heartbeat, eye inflammation, hepatitis and severe fatigue. These symptoms could be mistaken for chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia.
If left untreated, Lyme disease can cause chronic inflammation of the joints, neurological symptoms, cognitive defects such as impaired memory, and heart rhythm irregularities.