While experts warn that tick numbers are expected to explode this summer, the COVID-19 pandemic has hampered public health efforts in the Niagara region to identify the threat posed by insects that may carry disease.
The closure of public health offices to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 has prevented people from taking down ticks they find they will be tested for Lyme disease, making it difficult for us to determine how common the insects are in the area as well as the percentage that can be infected, said environmental health director Joe DiGioli. disease tolerance.
“In the pre-pandemic period, we were getting close to 3,000 ticks a year that we were identifying, which was one of our ways to determine the number of ticks and to determine how many ticks are circulating and how many people acquire them during their travels,” DeGiuli said.
“But since our offices are closed, we have gone to an online submission to continue providing this service to the public. The public can contact us, send us a picture of any tick they might have crawled and we will identify it (the tick) to let them know if it is a black legged tick or a dog tick, We hope to allay some of their concerns.”
Black-legged ticks can spread Lyme disease, but pictures cannot determine if they are carriers.
Public Health reported a larger-than-expected increase in the number of cases of Lyme disease among Niagara residents last year, with 36 cases reported.
DeGiuli said Public Health is hiring a team of two students who perform a “tick pull” procedure. A white sheet is pulled over bushes and tall grasses as ticks are believed to be found throughout the area. The students started their work about a month ago, but the results of their research are not yet available.
“I went into their lab and there was a large amount of dog ticks, which is a good thing because it was dog ticks, but there was a large amount of ticks in general,” he said.
“Looks like we’re off to a hot start with dog ticks.”
One blacklegged tick has been found in Niagara this season so far.
“It was a nymph, an immature tick and it’s very small (to be seen), which makes it very risky,” he said.
“Essentially all of Niagara and most of Ontario is a high-risk area for ticks and Lyme, just because of climate change. It’s just becoming a better habitat for ticks.”
It’s possible that every tick season is likely to be worse than the last because of climate change, said Phet Lloyd, researcher and director of the Lloyd Tick Lab at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick.
“As winters get milder and shorter, ticks live better, and have more time to feed and have a romance,” Lloyd said. “Once a female tick finds a male and food, she can produce approximately 3,000 eggs. When this starts to happen,[the population]explodes very quickly.”
DeGiuli said people can also submit photos of ticks to the recently created website eTick.ca for identification — a program launched a few years ago by an entomologist from Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, Que.
An increasing number of ticks are being reported across the country, said Jeremy Bouvard, eTick project coordinator.
“It is especially intense in southern Ontario near Toronto and Niagara Falls. There are a lot of black-legged ticks as well as a lot of Dermacentor (dog ticks) species.”
So far this year, he said, about 900 images of the black-legged tick have been sent using the eTick mobile app in Ontario.
However, Bouvard said the program is still too new to make any definitive conclusions about tick populations.
Meanwhile, lone star ticks – identified by a single white spot on their back – have also been found in Niagara, which poses another health risk to people.
Bouvard said that species of ticks can cause people to develop an anaphylactic reaction when they eat red meat.
DeGiuli said one or two single star ticks are identified locally each year, although none have been found in Niagara so far this season.
The lone star tick found in the region has stopped here from warmer climates on migratory birds. They do not breed locally, DeGiuli said.
“What I understand, unfortunately, is that it’s probably just a matter of time,” DeGiuli said.
Protect yourself from ticks
Although insect repellents containing DEET may not prevent ticks from reaching people, it should prevent them from biting.
Wear light-coloured clothing, which makes it easier to see ticks.
Wear pants tucked into your socks to prevent ticks from easily getting onto your skin.
Take a shower after being in areas where they may be.
“You want to check behind your knees, your armpits, your belly button, your scalp, behind your ears or in your ears. Any kind of incisions, basically, because ticks usually go into these areas,” said Jeremy Bouvard of eTick. .
Ticks take at least 24 hours to pass on Lyme disease.
More information is available on the Niagara District Public Health website.