Nova Scotia ramps up tick awareness with permanent signs

One of 131 permanent signs the Nova Scotia government has installed to raise awareness about ticks is at Herring Cove Provincial Park. (Anjuli Patil/CBC - image credit)
One of 131 permanent signs the Nova Scotia government has installed to raise awareness about ticks is at Herring Cove Provincial Park. (Anjuli Patil/CBC - image credit)

The Nova Scotia government is in the process of installing 131 permanent signs to warn people about ticks as cases of Lyme disease and anaplasmosis continue to rise.

"We're really excited about this initiative because it will help people who are being active and outdoors in Nova Scotia to have really front of mind, when they go into those areas, that there's actions they can take right there and then that will reduce their chance of getting a tick-borne disease," said Dr. Jennifer Cram, a regional medical officer of health.

The signs say: "Beware of ticks. Tick bites may cause infection." They include pictures of three different ticks to watch out for and a link and QR code to a website with information on how to prevent bites and what to do if bitten.

According to provincial data from July 2023, blacklegged ticks are found in long grass, leaf litter, shrubs, woody areas, urban parks and gardens all over the province.

Lyme disease is transmitted to people by a bite from an infected blacklegged tick. In Nova Scotia, only blacklegged ticks carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, but not all blacklegged ticks carry the bacteria.

While most cases in Nova Scotia are reported in the spring and summer when people are more active, Cram said it's important people know ticks can be active in the winter as well.

"Ticks are active and present in Nova Scotia anytime it's above 4 C, which really means — with our climate right now and with a warming climate most months of the year — you can expect to have active black legged ticks unless we're in an unusually cold spell," she said.

Reducing chances of getting a tick-borne illness

Health officials in Nova Scotia suggest the following tips to reduce the chance of getting a tick-borne illness:

  • Wear long pants and long sleeves in areas likely to have ticks.

  • Wear light-coloured clothing so that it's easier to see ticks.

  • Wear enclosed shoes and tuck pants into socks.

  • Walk on well-travelled paths and stay away from long grass and vegetation.

  • Wearing Health Canada-approved insect repellents to exposed skin and clothes.

The province said clothing treated with the insecticide permethrin — which is often marketed as tick and mosquito repellent clothing — can also help reduce chances of getting bitten by a tick.

Health officials say to make it a daily routine to check for ticks after being outside. Places to check include:

  • Around ears.

  • Behind knees. In hair.

  • Between the legs and groin area.

  • Around the waist.

The province says people should have a bath or shower within two hours of coming inside because this makes it easier to see ticks and wash off any that are unattached.

Tick resources

If bitten by a blacklegged tick within a three-day period, people might be able to be assessed for treatment from a pharmacist, according to the province. People are also able to submit pictures of ticks through to determine what kind of tick was behind a bite.

On Wednesday, there had been 1,776 tick submissions on the site for Nova Scotia alone.

"Lyme disease has been notifiable for a long period of time and we have seen that steadily increasing year over year and would expect to see that same increase this year," Cram said, adding data for this year is still being compiled.

Laura Ferguson, an associate professor at Acadia University's biology department who studies ticks and their responses to climate change, supports the province spreading more awareness.

"I think that's really important and I'm actually really glad they're doing that because the more we can be proactive about tick bites and infections associated with tick borne diseases, I think that's going to be ... sort of our best tool in our toolbox," Ferguson said.

Nova Scotia's Department of Health and Wellness says data for the 2022 report on notifiable diseases, which would have information on tick-borne illnesses, would be ready toward the end of this year. The department said it anticipated the 2023 report would be available by next summer.

Data on tick-borne illnesses in Nova Scotia is reported in the department's annual notifiable disease report. Data for the 2022 report is still being confirmed. However, early signs show that the overall number of reported tick-borne illnesses is increasing.