Is danger lurking in our forests?

Ah, those Quebec winters! Although we often think summer will never come again, our glacial temperatures actually have their advantages. For example, cold temperatures prevent ticks that carry Lyme disease from infesting our forests. But how long will this last?

Ah, those Quebec winters! Although we often think summer will never come again, our glacial temperatures actually have their advantages. For example, cold temperatures prevent ticks that carry Lyme disease from infesting our forests. But how long will this last? Global warming will undoubtedly change this. Researchers estimate that the disease could migrate all the way up to Quebec City as soon as 2020, migrating further to the Lac St. Jean region by 2080.

Currently, ticks infected with Lyme disease are found in most American states, although the majority of reported cases are concentrated in the North-East, the upper Midwest and in northern California. In Canada, infected tick populations are well established in southern Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and British Columbia. If the disease has yet to reach the province of Quebec, it certainly has not spared the United States and Europe. America reports diagnosing close to 20,000 new cases each year, and the Old Continent 50,000 cases!

A tick is a small bug the size of an ant that lives in wooded areas. Like little vampires lying in wait, they hang on to bushes and tall grasses. When a warm-blooded animal brushes upon them, they latch on and begin their bloody feast. A tick becomes infected with Lyme disease when it feeds upon the blood of its victim, subsequently passing it on to the next victim.

Tick bites are not usually painful and typically go unnoticed for quite some time. However, a small red bump can appear at the site of the bite, often in the groin or waist area or behind the knees. It may take a few days to a month after a bite has occurred. Four out of five people infected with Lyme disease report seeing the rash expand up to 30 cm in diameter a few days following a bite. Many experience flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, fatigue, joint and muscle pains and headaches.

A simple antibiotic treatment is usually sufficient to cure the disease but the situation can deteriorate when left untreated. Lyme disease is difficult to diagnose because the symptoms resemble those of many other infections.

If Lyme disease is not treated, it can cause joint inflammation, neurological symptoms and, although rare, heart complications that may jeopardize the patient’s life. When Lyme disease is contracted during pregnancy, it can infect the placenta and lead to congenital anomalies.

If you are planning a trip to the regions affected by Lyme disease, you should cover your body when walking in wooded or grassy areas. Wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts, socks, closed shoes, and spray your clothes with insect repellent. After your trek, it is important you inspect your children’s and your dog’s skin carefully, as well as your own, to make sure all are tick-free. When the tick is removed within 48 hours, the risk that it has transmitted the infection is weak at around 1%. To remove a tick, grab it close to its mouth with tweezers and pull carefully but steadily. They usually release without any complications.

If you think you may have been infected with Lyme disease, inspect your skin for bites and seek medical attention as soon as possible.

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