There’s no better time than summer to enjoy the great outdoors, go camping, start gardening – or get bitten by nasty pests. Mosquitoes, bees and wasps, flies, ants, and other creepy crawlies all become more active in warm weather, taking out the fun of summer for many Canadians and prompting them to be constantly on alert.
But while most of summer pests are no more than an annoying nuisance, and their irritating presence can be effectively managed with simple measures, one category is downright dangerous. The blood-sucking, disease-carrying ticks are currently at their highest rate across Canada, becoming prevalent even in areas that were once considered low-risk, and putting all Canadians at greater risk of contacting the infamous Lyme disease.
Most Canadians regard Lyme disease as a very rare, difficult-to-get illness that only affects hikers who get bitten by ticks after venturing into deep woods. The misconceptions go even further: everyone with Lyme must develop a Bulls-Eye rash or flu-like symptoms (fever, joint pain, weakness, fatigue), which are accurately detected by doctors and easily cured with antibiotics in a few weeks. Since there’s no such thing as chronic Lyme disease, and the risk of getting infected is isolated to specific geographic areas, this is not really a subject for concern.
All this would be excellent news, if it weren’t downright false. Indeed, the black-legged (deer) tick responsible for transmitting the disease to humans prefers moist and humid environments, particularly in the proximity of wooded and grassy areas, but that doesn’t mean it cannot hop onto your dog while it’s rolling in the grass during one of your visits to the park. The Bulls-Eye rash is also a common symptom among infected people, but not nearly as common as most think. Experts suggest that in only 30 percent of cases is the rash visible, and many of these usually go unnoticed due to body hair and unexpected placement on the body.
What’s even more problematic is that the number of disease-carrying ticks in Canada has grown tenfold in the past 20 years, and the prognosis continues to be grim. If in 1990, the Lyme-transmitting ticks were virtually non-existent in Canada, today they have colonized areas that accommodate 18% of the entire country’s population. According to experts’ estimates, this figure is expected to grow to 80 percent in eastern Canada by 2020.
The number of cases of Lyme disease has also skyrocketed in the last few years, although official estimates are believed to be incredibly low, considering that the disease is still highly underreported due to inadequate testing and doctors’ lack of awareness. While the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) reported few over 300 cases of Lyme disease in 2012, every year there are more than 3,000 patients who ask the help of the Canadian Lyme Disease Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing awareness of Lyme and its associated diseases among both patients and doctors. The U.S. faces a similar situation: according to a 2013 report from the CDC, more than 300,000 Americans are diagnosed with Lyme disease every year – a number 10 times higher than the 30,000 officially reported.
Although these scary new stats paint a scary picture, there’s no need to panic. As with any other nasty critters, prevention is key to steering clear of Lyme disease and associated illnesses, so keep your home and family safe by:
1) Protecting pets: If you live in a tick-dense region and you have pets that spend time outside, conduct a daily inspection of their fur, focusing on dark hiding places such as around the ears, between the toes, and under the tail. Use a tweezers to pull ticks out, and talk to your vet about vaccination.
2) Clearing out grass and greenery: Since ticks thrive in humid, shady areas, it’s a good idea to start clearing out areas of your property where lawn and debris is gathered. Trim the lawn and tall grasses regularly and place compost bins away from high-traffic areas.
3) Making your garden unattractive to tick carriers: Deer and other wildlife are often implicated in the transmission of Lyme disease, so limit the disease-carrying ticks’ range by installing physical barriers to keep them out of your garden. Also, consider removing vegetation that’s attractive to deer and other animals that might visit your property.
4) Inspecting hideouts: Fences, walls, and outdoor buildings such as sheds are common places where ticks like to dwell. Identify all their hiding spots and then perform regular inspection.
5) Letting the pros step in: Ticks found on pets or inside the house require careful inspection and thorough removal, so it’s wise to let the pros step in. Pest control professionals have the knowledge and tools necessary to rid your house and garden, especially if your tick problem is chronic, so make sure to ask for help before it is too late.
About the Author
Daniel Mackie, co-owner of Greenleaf Pest Control, is a Toronto pest control expert well-known as an industry go-to guy, an innovator of safe, effective pest control solutions, and is a regular guest on HGTV. Mackie, along with business partner Sandy Costa, were the first pest control professionals in Canada to use detection dogs and thermal remediation for the successful eradication of bed bugs. In his free time, he is an avid gardener.