It’s not hard in Canada to find a place to hike. We have thousands of square miles of provincial and national parks to explore, and many of us tie on our boots and set out on the trail whenever the weather is good. We all know being physically active is a great way to stay healthy, and is a wonderful release after a week at the office.
Hikers beware, however. There’s more to bring home than good memories, a few blisters and some great photos. Once limited to Ontario, and well established in many parts of the United States, ticks carrying Lyme disease have now been found in several other provinces.
Lyme disease is difficult to diagnose because its wide range of symptoms makes it easy confused with other conditions. The Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation offers a free downloadable brochure about the signs and symptoms on their site and is well worth the read before you head into the back country, whatever your province.
Here’s what happens
A deer tick attaches itself to you as you walk through grassy, wooded areas. The tick is a slow moving insect with a bite that is often unnoticeable. It transfers the spiral-shaped bacteria, which leads to Lyme disease, into your blood. Symptoms sometimes appear quickly, but sometimes develop well after your hike in the bush is over. This means remembering you might have been in a tick environment can be far from your mind if you develop symptoms, which adds to the challenge of diagnosing this disease.
What are the symptoms and dangers?
- Red, circular rash, often with flu-like symptoms, lasting days or several weeks
- Swollen joints, irregular heartbeat, nervous disorders or eye inflammation
- Months to years later, arthritis and nervous system disorders, such as brain inflammation, can occur
- Lyme disease can also be responsible for miscarriage, still birth or premature birth if contracted during pregnancy
How can you avoid contracting Lyme disease?
- Hike in open, rocky areas if possible
- Opt for light coloured clothing to better see dark ticks
- Wear a long sleeved shirt and tuck long pants into socks
- Don’t rest in grassy areas – a deer might have slept there last night
- Leave the sandals at home and wear close fitting shoes or boots
- Check yourself and your children for ticks immediately after your hike
- Consult the above sites on the best way to remove ticks
The best defense against contracting Lyme disease is to educate yourself on precautionary measures before you venture into the woods. Enjoy your time outdoors before you head back to work, but be safe.