The number of black-legged ticks submitted to the Thunder Bay District Health Unit is down by about half compared to this time last year.
But vector-borne disease program co-ordinator Ken Deacon said that doesn’t mean the ticks, which are potential carriers of Lyme disease, aren’t in the area. It’s rather because fewer people have submitted samples due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“No one wants to go to the health unit right now,” he said.
However, the health unit has a contactless drop-off system for tick samples and because of the thousands of people who hike and walk their dogs in the district, they rely on those samples to offer a snapshot of the tick situation.
That’s the problem with passive surveillance, said Deacon.
“We’re not getting the submissions so our submissions are down so the number of black-legged ticks are down but that doesn’t mean they’ve gone away,” he said. “It means we’re having fewer people bring in ticks.”
The health unit has been carrying out active surveillance as well, but Deacon said that is just one person.
The province has identified Thunder Bay as a risk area for Lyme disease and Deacon said the specific area of risk is a 20-kilometre radius from Rabbit Mountain.
Black-legged ticks first appeared in the Thunder Bay district in 2005 and it slowly increased from there until about 100 of the insects were found last year.
The wood tick, also known as a dog tick, is also present in Thunder Bay. Deacon said they get about 10 times the number of wood ticks submitted.
“They’re super abundant but they don’t carry any diseases,” he said.
To avoid tick bites, the health unit recommends wearing long, light-coloured pants tucked into socks and to use insect repellant. While hiking, stick to trails and don’t venture into bush areas and do a tick check on yourself when finished outdoors.
There is a 24-hour period before there is a risk of Lyme disease as it takes a while for a tick to begin to feed and for the pathogen to start being transmitted, said Deacon.
For more information on tick safety and how to submit a tick sample, visit tbdhu.com.