To the Editor:
People have been told various things with regard to when ticks are a problem. I was at a meeting the other year with our minister of Health and the Chief Medical Officer who tried to tell us there were no ticks in the winter. Wrong answer!
Ticks can be a problem year round depending on the temperature. It is also important to know that ticks have been found crossbreeding, hybridizing. If you can take a golden retriever and cross it with a poodle and get a goldendoodle why can’t a blacklegged tick crossbreed with a groundhog tick and get a blackhog tick?
It is important to know about the life cycle of the blacklegged tick.
The black-legged tick is a three-host parasite with a three to four year life cycle. Eggs that are laid in the first spring hatch into six-legged larvae in the summer. Some larvae feed in the first year and some overwinter without feeding and feed the next year. They tend to stay close to the egg mass and attach to a small host such as a mouse or other small mammals.
Larvae can be active from June to September, with their peak activity in August. After feeding, they molt into the eight-legged nymph stage and remain inactive through the first winter, emerging during the second spring.
Nymphs become active and attach to medium-sized mammals from May on into September. The nymphs then drop off and molt to the adult.
Adult ticks seek a third and final larger host such as deer, in late September and peak in October and April. The male tick will take a small blood meal whereas the female takes a larger blood meal to help ripen her eggs. The adult can be found from September to May depending on the weather.
After mating, the female drops to the ground and lays about 3,000 eggs in the leaf litter at the end of the second summer to complete the multi-year cycle. If the adult tick is unsuccessful in mating, it will remain dormant in the leaf litter until temperatures begin to rise above 4 degrees Celsius to try again.
Feeding/attachment time for larvae and nymphs is about four to seven days and adults can feed for six to 10 days; black legged ticks are slow feeders. The idea that the tick must be attached for 24 to 48 hours has only been tested on animals; there is no scientific proof to show this is so for humans. There is also contradictory evidence showing transmission in less than 24 hours when a tick is re-feeding after being groomed off or disliking its first host.
No tick bite is good! The host during any of the tick’s stages of development can be human; it is about being in the wrong place at the right time for the tick to climb on board.
Each female tick can lay an egg mass of 2,000-8,000 eggs. And it’s estimated 50-175 million ticks are deposited across Eastern Canada yearly.
It can take three to four years for the tick to complete its life cycle and for an area to be deemed endemic all stages of the life cycle must be found. These ticks from established areas can spread out at a rate of 35 to 55 kilometres per year with an average of 46 kilometres.
Ticks are transported into areas by birds so it is important to be aware of their fly paths. Ticks fall off the birds in the environment and are referred to as ‘adventitious’ ticks that can spread disease in areas outside established areas. Deer act as tick ‘taxis’ as well as ‘all you can eat buffets’ — it is a ride with a meal. Deer are found in ever increasing numbers in urban areas. We are all at risk, low risk is still risk and those living in high risk area should increase their guard.
Ticks are referred to as the dirty needle and can carry many diseases, not just borrelia ie Lyme: babesiosis, bartonella, Q fever, tularemia, powassan virus as well as various other viruses and worms. Recently I told a doctor I had Lyme and Bartonella and was asked, ‘How did you get that?’… answer, ticks! In the past I had an infectious disease doctor tell me he knew nothing about Lyme and another told me she was too busy and didn’t have time for Lyme. Things must change.
Education is key!