Despite being around for a very long time, Lyme disease and ticks have only recently become a top-of-mind health issue for the public. This is, in part, thanks to an increasing presence of Black-Legged Ticks in Ontario and other high-profile stories including Avril Lavigne’s recent struggle with Lyme disease that became international news.
As a Communications Specialist with Public Health, I decided it was time to learn more about ticks and this high-profile Public Health issue, so I looked to our resident tick expert (and Public Health Inspector) for answers. Now, I can tell you the Lyme disease is more common than you might think. It’s caused a bacteria that can be carried and transmitted through the bite of a Black-Legged Tick which can spread to new areas through animal hosts including migratory birds. I can also tell you that rates of Lyme disease continue to climb throughout North America.
Did you know that at Public Health, we collect ticks from the public for identification and possible testing? We also go out and flag for ticks within Wellington, Dufferin and Guelph. Now, let me tell you, flagging for ticks…is definitely not a job for everyone!
What is flagging?
Flagging is a simple, inexpensive and effective way to collect ticks, a job which could otherwise be challenging as ticks are often no larger than an apple seed.
You do so by dragging a piece of white flannel sheet through a suspected tick habitat. The ticks will latch on to the material or the person holding the material as it goes by, hoping for a chance at a warm-blooded meal. A suitable habitat for a tick is usually made up of a mixed forest with low-lying vegetation and animal hosts like deer, raccoons, chipmunks and birds to feast or travel on.
But, flagging for ticks isn’t just a matter of heading out for a nice walk through the woods with a bed sheet trailing behind you! Before heading out to collect ticks that could potentially spread disease, one must take precautions and suit up in one-piece, white coveralls (as seen in the image below) that are taped at the ankles and wrists to prevent any tick “hitchhikers” from finding their way up and into sleeves and pant legs.
After a day of flagging, once any discovered ticks have been collected, “flaggers” are thoroughly checked by another team member for the presence of ticks that may have been picked up, with special attention given to areas around the back and hairline.
These steps taken by flaggers to protect themselves are very similar to steps we recommend you take after before and after going for a hike or spending time in outdoor wooded areas:
- Wear light-coloured pants and a long-sleeved shirt so ticks are easy to see
- Wear closed footwear and tuck pants into socks
- Use a repellent that contains DEET
- Perform full-body tick checks on yourself, your children and your pets
For tips on how to identify ticks or for information on how to remove them from your skin, view our Tick ID Card.
If you have been bitten by a tick and are concerned, contact your healthcare provider. Be sure to keep the tick so you can submit it to Public Health for identification.