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  • Writer's pictureKatie Clow

A discovery from the past, a new reality for the future

We had the pleasure of having a Master of Public Health practicum student work with us this summer on blacklegged tick related research and education. She compiled this exciting blog for you!

A hard tick grasping a dinosaur feather preserved in 99-million-year-old Burmese amber.

(Nature Communications; Peñalver et al. )

A piece of 99 million year old amber has confirmed what scientists long believed to be true. A 2017 discovery of a tick intertwined in the feather of a winged dinosaur has given the science community “direct evidence” of the relationship between ticks and dinosaurs. While it has long been suspected that ticks fed on our Jurassic friends, this discovery is the first known piece of evidence supporting these claims.

So what does this mean? Well, we know that ticks have been around for nearly 100 million years, and that they aren’t likely to disappear anytime soon. However, not all ticks are harmful to humans and pets. In fact, there are more than 800 species of ticks known across the globe, but only a select few are known to feed on humans and pets in Canada. In recent history, ticks became a notable threat to humans in the 1980 with the emergence of Lyme disease.

Since the bacteria that causes Lyme disease is spread by the blacklegged tick in the northeastern United States and Canada, researchers can track the potential threat of Lyme disease by tracking the migration of these ticks. Recent studies in Ontario show that the blacklegged tick may be moving up to 46 km each year, spreading further into Ontario. It is estimated that by 2049, all public health units in Ontario will have a climate favourable for ticks that have the potential to spread Lyme disease.

This means that tick bite prevention should be a regular part of participating in outdoor activities in Ontario. An easy way to remember the key components of tick bite prevention is ‘Be Tick AWARE’. The Tick AWARE prevention program was created by the Global Lyme Alliance and stands for Avoid, Wear, Apply, Remove, and Examine.

AVOID areas where ticks live. Ticks thrive forested areas, as well as the surrounding brush and grassy areas. Walk on cleared paths whenever possible.

WEAR light-coloured clothing, including long pants, long sleeves, socks and close-toed shoes.

APPLY bug spray containing DEET or Icaridin on your skin and clothing (always follow the directions on the label).

REMOVE clothing upon returning home. Put all clothes in the dryer for 10 minutes on high heat, and take a hot shower within 2 hours of being outdoors.

EXAMINE yourself, children and pets for ticks. Check the hair, underarms, ears, belly button, behind the knees, between the legs and around the waist closely.

These steps will help you protect yourself, your family and your pets from tick bites. Are you Tick AWARE?

See our previous post Let’s not forget about ticks! for more pet-specific information on preventing tick bites.

Safe adventuring!

- Sarah Anthony

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