Spreading Lyme Disease-Carrying Ticks Linked to Global Warming

Spreading Lyme Disease-Carrying Ticks Linked to Global Warming

As temperatures warm due to global warming, scientists note a rapidly spreading colonization of Lyme disease-carrying ticks into populated areas of Canada.

If you go out in the woods today you may or may not be sure of a big surprise, depending upon exactly where you live. According to a new study, Lyme disease-carrying ticks are spreading their reach rapidly throughout Canada. And these scientists say the blame may be with global warming.

How many have Lyme disease?

Statistics for Lyme disease are hard to come by in Canada since medical reporting of this disease was only mandated by Health Canada starting in 2010. And, depending upon who you talk to, the methodology for diagnosing Lyme disease in Canada is sadly inadequate.

In the US, where reporting has taken place since 1992, about 30,000 people—mostly from the northeast US—were diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2010.

But what everyone—including Health Canada—agrees upon is that the incidence of Lyme disease is rising and will continue to rise with the spread of Lyme disease-carrying ticks.

Long-time data collection

The recent study by researchers at the University of Montreal, published in the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Applied Ecology, used data collected over two decades to track tick populations and their growth across Canada.

From 18 to 80 percent by 2020

What they found was that Lyme disease-carrying ticks have increased their range across southern Canada from being almost non-existent in 1990 to colonizing 18 percent of Canada’s populated areas. This will rise to 80 percent in eastern Canada by 2020, according to the researchers’ findings.

Warmer temperatures = more ticks

Because “temperature was the most important determinant of environmental suitability for tick populations,” they say the data “suggests that temperature not only affects where ticks can establish, but also the speed of range expansion, with warmer areas being colonized more rapidly.”

More ticks = more Lyme disease

The researchers said that the range will expand 46 km per year in the coming decade, resulting in a substantial increase in human Lyme disease risk. And because of this, they recommend “prompt action to prepare the Canadian public for a likely epidemic of Lyme disease, with emphasis on focusing surveillance activities to confirm the locations of emerging Lyme disease risk.”

Lyme disease symptoms

According to Health Canada, Lyme disease usually happens in three stages with the first being  a circular rash beginning at the site of the tick bite after 3 days to a month. Other symptoms include

  • fatigue
  • chills
  • fever
  • headache
  • muscle and joint pain
  • swollen lymph nodes

If left untreated, second stage symptoms may include

  • central and peripheral nervous system disorders
  • multiple skin rashes
  • arthritis and arthritic symptoms
  • heart palpitations
  • extreme fatigue and general weakness

Third-stage symptoms can include recurring arthritis and neurological problems.

Prevent tick bites

Before you go out in the woods today, you can do several things to prevent tick bites and protect yourself from the chance of developing Lyme disease.

  • Check with your local public health office to see if there are ticks in the area you plan to go.
  • Wear closed shoes.
  • Wear light-coloured clothing (ticks show up better).
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts that fit tightly around the wrist and tuck them into pants.
  • Tuck long pants into socks or boots.
  • Use insect repellent.
  • Always check for ticks after being out in possible tick-infested areas.

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