That minuscule black spot on the back of your elbow may just be a leftover poppy seed from lunch. Or it could be something more sinister. It could be a Lyme Disease-carrying tick.
But could you spot the difference?
It can be hard to tell, and that’s the point the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently made when the organization ’s health officials shared a photo on Twitter of what was thought to be a normal poppy seed muffin. It may have looked like a tasty mid-morning snack, but appearances can be deceiving as a close-up shot later revealed some of the “poppy seeds” on the muffin were actually ticks.
The thought of a tick on your body will likely leave you with a bone-chilling repulsive feeling. And who wouldn’t feel that way?
But Dr. Curtis Russell, an entomologist with Public Health Ontario, points out that the CDC has shed light on an important safety issue for people—tick bites and the possibility of transmitting Lyme disease.
Did you know the Ontario government says 370 cases of Lyme disease alone were reported in the province in 2017? Or that Lyme disease is only transmitted through the black-legged tick?
If you’re someone who spends a lot of time outdoors for work, preventing tick bites is something you shouldn’t forget to do. Left untreated, Lyme disease can cause serious health problems. An infection could even lead to cardiac, neurological and arthritic conditions and can sometimes be fatal. The tell-tale symptoms of the disease often include a bulls-eye type rash around the site of the tick bite, along with fatigue, headache, fever, joint and muscle pain.
“The big thing with Lyme disease for people to know is that it’s preventable in that you don’t get bit,” Russell says.
Whether working or enjoying leisure time outdoors, it’s important to know ticks look for leaf cover. They live in the ground and burrow into it, and only come up looking for a host to grab a ride on. Ticks thrive in moist areas such as tall grass and forested areas, typically avoiding direct sunlight, Russell explains.
“They can dry and die out, which is why they go down into the leaves. Say a tick got stuck on a soccer field, it’s a dry environment or if someone has a nicely manicured lawn—That isn’t good for ticks.”
Ticks don’t crawl toward their hosts either, they sit on low-lying vegetation with their arms out waiting to jump on the next person or animal to walk by.
If your job requires you to go into places where ticks might be a concern, Russell says it’s important to take precautions when outdoors. In terms of prevention, he explains, it’s important to wear protection containing DEET and Icaridin, and dress in a long-sleeved shirt, pants, socks and closed shoes if you know you’re going to be in at-risk areas.
It’s also a good idea to tuck your socks into your pants because ticks typically hide in hair or hidden places such as underarms or behind knees.
When you dress in the morning for work, it’s also a good idea to put on bright clothing because ticks will be easier to spot.
What should you do after you’ve been in a high-risk area?
Check yourself for ticks, and if you can, use what Russell calls “The Buddy System.”
“You might joke about it, but another person can check places you can’t check on your body for ticks in places like the back of your hairline.”
It’s also a great idea to shower afterwards or have a bath to wash those little suckers off.
If you do find a tick attached to your body, don’t try to drown it in Vaseline. Doing that will only agitate it, Russell says.
Using a pair of tweezers, carefully grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible. Pull it straight out with steady, even pressure and make sure the entire tick has been removed. Then place it in a screw-top bottle and take it to your doctor or public health unit, which can help to track where Lyme disease is in the province.
Public Health Ontario collaborates with Public Health Units to identify risk areas for Lyme disease. The most current map of risk areas is available on Public Health Ontario’s website.
If you’re looking for more information about workplace safety, don’t hesitate to contact one of our experts at Employment Professionals Canada today!