the northern advance of ticks


As I highlighted in a previous blog post, climate change has far more reaching consequences than just warming our planet – it also impacts human health. With warming temperatures and thus, more regions growing to become increasingly habitable, climate change is creating a more livable environment for vectors that spread infectious, and often severe, diseases. In recent years, this spread has been very evident in Canada with the expanding northern advance of ticks.

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Projection of tick abundance. Source: Public Health Agency of Canada

Ticks are small insects that feed on blood meals – without them, they will eventually die. Unfortunately for us, they are also vectors for disease transmission in humans. Lyme disease is the most commonly associated disease with ticks and up until a decade years ago, it was hardly a worry in Canada. Lyme Disease became a reportable disease in Canada in 2009 and since then the reported number of Lyme disease cases has continued to rise over the years, from 144 cases in 2009 to 841 cases in 2016.

Lyme Disease

However, ticks also spread more than just Lyme disease – they also put us at risk of other infectious diseases, such as the Powassan virus, which may be much more dangerous and cause encephalitis. The virus is spread by many types of ticks and transmission takes as little as 15 minutes (in contrast, transmission of Lyme disease takes 24-36 hours). Although still rare in Canada, with warming global temperatures, it may not be long before we start seeing more spread of the Powassan virus.

Currently, ticks are endemic in a number of areas across Canada, including:

  • Southern British Columbia
  • Southern Manitoba
  • Southern, Eastern, and North Western Ontario
  • Southern Quebec
  • Southern New Brunswick
  • Southern Nova Scotia

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However, ticks can be found across the nation as they spread by attaching themselves to birds. Although spending time outdoors can be healthy, activities like camping, hiking, and gardening can also pose a health risk by putting those who venture outside at risk of tick bites. Areas where the risk of tick bites increase include: wooded areas, nature parks, grassy fields, and beaches/dunes. Often, children are at higher risk as they spend a lot of time outdoors.

With summer just around the corner, it’s important to ensure that we take the appropriate precautions to protect ourselves from tick bites and they diseases they spread.

  • Apply permethrin to clothing to ward off ticks.
  • Apply DEET or lcaridin to skin and clothing.
  • Wear light-coloured clothing with long sleeves and pants to easily spot ticks.
  • Walk on cleared paths/walkways.
  • Shower/bathe soon (within 2 hours) after being outdoors and check for ticks.
  • Dry outdoor clothes on high heat for approximately 10 minutes to kill any ticks
  • Keep grass short and mow lawn regularly.
  • Remove leaf litter, brush, and weeds.
  • Treat your pets for ticks.

If you or someone you know is bitten by a tick, please remove the tick as soon as possible to prevent infection. Follow the following instructions by the Government of Canada on tick removal and contact your family doctor immediately. For a list of Lyme disease symptoms, click here.

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