Protect Workers from Lyme Disease

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Workers who work outside, especially in or near wooded or bushy areas, are at risk of getting bit by ticks and thus contracting Lyme disease. In fact, on Oct. 26, WorkSafeBC issued a hazard alert reminding outdoor workers to routinely check for ticks. So if any of your workers could be exposed to the risk of Lyme disease, you should take appropriate steps to protect them.

What Is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium that’s transmitted by the bite of an infected blacklegged tick (also called a deer tick) or western blacklegged tick. These tiny ticks are very hard to see and are much smaller than the common dog and cattle ticks.

How Common Is Lyme Disease in Canada?

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, in 2010, Lyme disease became a nationally reportable disease in Canada, which means that all medical professionals must report cases of Lyme disease to the PHAC via their provincial public health system. The risk for exposure to the disease is highest in regions where the ticks that transmit Lyme disease are known to be established, including parts of:

  • Southern and southeastern Québec;
  • Southern and eastern Ontario;
  • Southeastern Manitoba;
  • New Brunswick;
  • Nova Scotia; and
  • Much of southern British Columbia.

Who’s at Risk of Catching It?

Anyone who works outside is at risk of getting Lyme disease, especially workers in industries such as:

  • Forestry;
  • Farming;
  • Construction;
  • Landscaping and ground keepers;
  • Park or wildlife management; and
  • Veterinarians and anyone who has contact with animals that may carry the ticks (including domestic animals such as dogs, cats, goats, cows, horses, etc.).

What Are the Symptoms of Lyme Disease?

The symptoms of Lyme disease usually happen in three stages, although not all patients have every symptom. The first sign of infection is usually a circular rash called erythema migrans or EM (sometimes described as a bull’s eye). This rash occurs in about 70-80% of infected people. It begins at the site of the tick bite after a delay of three days to one month. Other common symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Swollen lymph nodes.

If untreated, the second stage of the disease can last up to several months and include:

  •   Central and peripheral nervous system disorders
  •   Multiple skin rashes
  •   Arthritis and arthritic symptoms
  •   Heart palpitations
  •   Extreme fatigue and general weakness.

If the disease remains untreated, the third stage can last months to years with symptoms that can include recurring arthritis and neurological problems. Fatalities from Lyme disease are rare.

Can Lyme Disease Be Treated?

Antibiotics are used to treat Lyme disease.

How Can Lyme Disease Be Prevented?

The best pay to protect workers from getting Lyme disease is to protect them from tick bites during the summer and into the fall, particularly if they spend time outdoors in areas that may have blacklegged ticks. Some tips to give workers:

  • Wear protective clothing to limit the access of ticks to your skin. This clothing should include enclosed shoes, long-sleeved shirts that fit tightly around the wrist and are tucked into pants, and long-legged pants tucked into socks or boots. Light coloured clothing help the wearer to spot ticks.
  • Use insect repellents containing DEET or other Health Canada approved ingredients.  Insect repellents can effectively repel ticks. Repellents may be applied to clothing as well as exposed skin but shouldn’t be applied to skin underneath clothing. Always read and follow label directions.
  • Remove leaves, clear brush, and tall grass around your worksite. Ticks prefer wooded and bushy areas with tall grass and leaf litter.  Avoid these areas and walk in the middle of trails.
  • Look for ticks on clothing and skin after being outdoors and remove them immediately. A daily total-body inspection can reduce the risk of infection. Blacklegged ticks are very small, particularly immature ticks, so look carefully. Use a mirror to view all parts of your body.  A magnifying glass can help spot ticks.