Lyme Disease on the Rise: Important Advice Parc-Extension green-thumbs

Lyme Disease on the Rise: Important Advice Parc-Extension green-thumbs

Over the past decade, the number of Lyme disease cases in Quebec has been steadily increasing. According to early data released by the Ministry of Health and Social Services (MSSS), this upward trend is expected to continue in 2024 and unfortunately it will affect our Park-Extension residents that dabble in gardening.

As of June 1, the MSSS has already reported 49 cases in the province for the current year. The majority of these cases are concentrated in southern Quebec, with 27 cases in Estrie and 11 in the Montreal region.

This early count suggests an active “tick season,” according to Dr. Catherine Bouchard, a veterinary epidemiologist at the Public Health Agency of Canada. Dr. Bouchard, who has been researching Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses for nearly 20 years, links this rise to climate change.

In 2022, there were 527 reported cases of Lyme disease in Quebec, a decrease from the historic high of 650 cases in 2021. By contrast, only 66 cases were recorded in 2014. Despite annual fluctuations, the overall trend is an increase, anticipated due to the impact of climate change.

Global temperature increases have made the black-legged tick, the primary vector for Lyme disease, more abundant in established areas and have allowed it to spread to previously unsuitable regions like Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean, which reported its first case in 2024.

Shorter, milder winters enable ticks to become active earlier in the year, as they only need temperatures to reach 4°C and for snow cover to disappear. This extended tick season now encroaches on both spring and autumn.

“Our seasonal patterns are changing. The tick activity period for seeking their first meal of the season starts earlier, in March and April. Humans, too, enter wooded areas, forests, and gardens earlier in the season, where ticks are found,” notes Dr. Bouchard.

Symptoms of Lyme disease range from simple redness to fever and muscle aches. In severe cases, if not detected or treated promptly, symptoms can include pain, dizziness, headaches, and even facial paralysis.

Increased Vigilance Required

Despite being a reportable disease in Quebec since 2003, the actual number of Lyme disease cases is likely higher than government data suggests. Often, people may not even notice a tick bite.

“Symptoms are general and sometimes self-limiting, which can resolve without antibiotics,” explains Dr. Bouchard, also an associate professor at the University of Montreal’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. “Our reaction depends on our immune system, and not everyone will suspect Lyme disease and seek medical attention.”

Healthcare personnel must be able to recognize Lyme disease symptoms and other tick-borne illnesses like anaplasmosis, which is also on the rise in Quebec.

Given this information, it is crucial for Parc-Extension residents who enjoy gardening to take the following precautions:

Wear Long Clothing: Cover your skin with long sleeves and pants to reduce exposure.

Use Insect Repellent: Apply repellents containing DEET or other tick-repelling ingredients.

Perform Regular Checks: After outdoor activities, thoroughly check your body and clothing for ticks.

Remove Ticks Safely: If you find a tick, remove it promptly and safely to minimize the risk of infection.

“Take this seriously and systematically check your body after outdoor activities,” advises Dr. Bouchard. “By recognizing and removing a tick quickly, you can prevent disease. The faster you remove a tick safely, the lower your risk of developing infections.”

Gardening in Parc-Extension can be a rewarding and enjoyable activity, but it’s important to stay vigilant and protect yourself from the increasing risk of Lyme disease. By taking these precautions, you can help ensure a healthy and safe gardening season.