With COVID-19 dominating the headlines, other health-related issues have taken a backseat. Currently, it is tick season, which poses health risks for humans and pets.
For Dr. Tom Foster of the Wellesley Veterinary Clinic, it’s a time of vigilance, even if the coronavirus crisis has meant a shift in his practice.
The family-owned clinic opened in 1941, switching to small animals about three years ago. Today, the adaptation is to the changing environment brought on by COVID-19, an adjustment that features more time on the phone.
“We are often advising people over the phone for non-critical cases,” said Foster, noting it’s a way to lower unnecessary traffic into the clinic. “We are doing a lot of prescription refills and things. What we do is we’ll prepare medication or parasite prevention, we will take payment over the phone and set the [supplies] outside.”
Though deemed an essential service, the operation has made some protocol changes to keep the business going. Tick season is certainly a priority issue there just now.
“Green spaces and areas where wildlife is prevalent, as well as transitional grass to small shrubs, is where ticks will be,” he explained.
Although Foster says most dogs he treats are exposed in rural areas, he does have clients in Kitchener-Waterloo whose pets pick up ticks regularly.
“In this area we are still in early stages where [ticks] are somewhat sporadic, unlike Eastern Ontario and Lake Erie. The trend seems to be once they are established the populations continue to increase. Because of the human health concern, people should be more concerned about their own personal protection and their pets,” he said.
Foster explained that there are different ticks: American dog tick, which is also known as a wood tick, Groundhog tick and the deer tick. The latter, also known as the blacklegged tick, with the scientific name of ixodes scapularis, poses the largest threat to humans as carriers of Lyme disease.
“The risk of ticks to humans, especially in Ontario … what we are worried about is the blacklegged tick. Also known as the deer tick, we are worried about it because it is the primary cause of Lyme disease,” explained Dr. Curtis Russell, a program specialist at Public Health Ontario.
According to Ontario’s Lyme disease risk management map, there are currently no displayed risks for the Region of Waterloo.
But Jim Wilson, president and founder of the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation (CLDF), maintains health officials downplay the risks of the disease, with cases under-reported.
Wilson contracted Lyme in 1991, then, a decade later, his daughter also became symptomatic. “We were always told it was a rare disease and here is two members of one family a decade apart catching a rare disease. The more I looked into the more I discovered that the only thing rare about is the diagnosis.”
Shortly afterwards, Wilson founded CLDF, a source for information about Lyme disease in Canada.
As an advocate, Wilson calls for updated testing protocols to identify under-reported cases.
“Testing in Canada only makes up for four per cent of the actual number of people infected with Lyme,” he said, arguing testing methods are 30 years out of date. “The bar is set so high that almost nobody will meet the positive standard that is required in Canada.”
Health officials recommend preventative steps, including staying on pathways when out in nature.
“Although the risk for Waterloo Region is low, still go outside but do wear personal protection. Avoid brushy areas and try to stay in the middle of the trail,” Russell advises.
Public Health suggests wearing brightly coloured clothes and tucking pants into socks. That way if a tick was to attach itself, it would be more easily spotted.
Beyond that, Wilson advocates the use of pesticides such as permethrin, which can be sprayed on clothing or bought already imbedded in outdoor wear.
The most important message Wilson is trying to spread through the foundation is “to be tick aware. Our motto is ‘no tick is a good tick.’ Not all ticks carry Lyme disease, but any tick that is going to attach itself to a human is capable of transmitting infectious disease.”