Many residents have contacted me regarding their concern for Ticks and Lyme Disease. In my capacity as Chair of the Board of Health I have been working with Ottawa Public Health on this issue for the past four years. Ottawa Public Health’s (OPH) approach to Lyme disease is guided by the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care’s Infectious Diseases Protocol, as well as technical and scientific guidance from Public Health Ontario. OPH is committed to reducing the health risks to residents posed by Lyme disease through surveillance, prevention of exposure, education and awareness. The prevention of tick bites is foundational to the prevention of Lyme disease. For the most part, diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease is not within the role of public health; however, OPH monitors developments in these areas and works with our clinical partners to promote health care provider awareness and knowledge.
To prevent tick bites, OPH recommend minimizing exposure to ticks through use of insect repellent, clothing choices, maintenance of yards to be inhospitable to ticks, and doing “tick checks” of all family members and pets after being outdoors in areas that are favorable to tick populations such as wooded areas or fields of long grass.
If a resident experiences a tick bite, the risk of contracting Lyme disease can be greatly reduced by early removal of the tick from the body. OPH promotes the early detection and safe removal of ticks through media outreach (including social media), education of partners who work or teach in the natural environment (such as Parks and Recreation), and distribution of ‘tick keys’. Please note that I will have tick keys in my ward office the coming couple of weeks should you wish to come pick one up to put on your person (i.e. key chain or back pack).
Awareness of the signs and symptoms of early Lyme disease is also important as early and accurate diagnosis and treatment greatly reduces the risk of more serious illness and the potential for long-term complications. Ottawa Public Health works to increase awareness among the public and health care providers, through general public service announcements, participation in public events and directed health care provider messages.
Lyme disease surveillance, in both ticks and humans, allows OPH to monitor the situation and adapt our interventions to the current conditions. Tick monitoring occurs through both active surveillance (dragging for ticks in their natural habitat) and passive surveillance (encouraging residents to submit ticks that they found on their bodies). Results of these efforts allows us to better understand the types and numbers of ticks found in specific locations in Ottawa, as well as the proportion of black-legged ticks found to be carrying Lyme disease. This information influences the recommendation to physicians regarding whether to offer post-exposure antibiotics after a tick bite to decrease the likelihood of Lyme disease infection. Currently, the level of Lyme disease in ticks in Ottawa is not considered high enough to warrant a recommendation for post-exposure prophylaxis.
Cases of Lyme disease in humans are reportable to OPH under the Health Protection and Promotion Act (HPPA). OPH specifically ask where the tick exposure took place in order to assess the level of disease risk within Ottawa. The information collected on the stage and nature of the infection (early or late, and any complications) as well as laboratory testing results, allow us to understand the patterns of Lyme disease among Ottawa residents. While speaking to the people infected with Lyme disease to gather this information, the Public Health Nurses also provide education that allows the residents to protect themselves and their families from future exposure to ticks or infection.
I invite you to visit the OPH website to learn more about preventing tick bites and the prevention of Lyme disease.