May is Lyme Disease awareness month in Nova Scotia

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The province's department of heatlh and wellness is encouraging people enjoying the outdoors to learn how to avoid the blacklegged tick bites that can cause the disease.

"While the risk of Lyme disease remains low in Nova Scotia, the tick population is growing so it's important to practice simple precautions to avoid exposure," said Dr. Robert Strang, chief public health officer. "People should be mindful when working or playing in grassy, shrubby and wooded areas anywhere in the province."

There are several easy ways to prevent or reduce contact with ticks:

-- wear light-coloured, long-sleeved shirts, pants and socks so ticks are more visible, and enclosed shoes while working or playing outside or hiking in the woods

-- pull socks up over pant legs and tuck in shirts

-- spray clothing and exposed skin with an insect repellant containing DEET or Icaridin

-- check clothing and exposed skin for ticks after working or playing outside in the bushes or tall grass, and remove any ticks attached to the skin

-- when possible, take a bath or shower within two hours of coming indoors. This makes it easier to find ticks

-- keep grass well cut to minimize suitable habitat for ticks on your property

Tick checks also help to prevent Lyme disease. Removing ticks as soon as possible can prevent or reduce the risk of infection, since blacklegged ticks can only transmit the bacterial infection after they have been attached to the skin for at least 24 hours.

There are six known areas in Nova Scotia where Lyme disease bacteria is present in ticks. They include areas of Lunenburg, Shelburne, Queens, Yarmouth and Pictou counties, and Halifax Regional Municipality. However, ticks could be anywhere and it is best to take precautions whenever working or playing outdoors.

There are many kinds of ticks in Nova Scotia, but only blacklegged ticks carry the bacteria that can cause Lyme disease.

Infected ticks can spread a bacterial infection through bites. If detected early, Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics. The earliest and most common symptom of Lyme disease is a bull's-eye rash at the site of the bite. Other symptoms include fever, fatigue, muscle aches and headaches.

If untreated, more serious illnesses can occur, including facial palsy which is a weakening of facial muscles, and heart or chronic joint problems. These complications can also be treated with antibiotics.

There have been 329 confirmed and probable cases of Lyme disease in Nova Scotia since 2002.

For more information, visit the province's website.  

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