All of Norfolk, half of Haldimand
Long Point and Turkey Point have been regarded as hot-spots for the tick that spreads Lyme disease in recent years.
However – based on last year’s field tests — the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit has determined that the tick species at issue can be found anywhere in Norfolk, much of west Haldimand, and in a large geographic area with Dunnville at its centre.
Kris Lutzi, the health unit’s senior public health inspector, told Norfolk council this week that three cases of Lyme disease were confirmed in Norfolk and Norfolk last year. This is down from seven cases in 2017 and five cases in 2016.
There was discussion at Tuesday’s meeting as to whether the proliferation of invasive phragmites in waterfront areas of Norfolk has expanded habitat for the deer tick that carries Lyme disease.
Lutzi said he has never seen confirmation of a deer tick from a beach sand environment. Deer ticks, he said, prefer shaded, damp forest areas with abundant leaf litter and spindly undergrowth for climbing on to potential hosts.
In counterpoint, Mayor Kristal Chopp said Turkey Point residents have shared reports to the contrary.
Deer ticks are one reason Turkey Point residents have been concerned in recent years with the spread of invasive phragmites on the beachfront along Ordnance Avenue.
While Lyme disease trends in the local area are headed in a positive direction, the same cannot be said for West Nile virus and eastern equine encephalitis virus.
Lutzi said hot, wet weather in southern Ontario in the spring of 2018 created ideal conditions for the proliferation of mosquitoes – the carriers of West Nile and EEEV.
Six cases of West Nile were confirmed in Haldimand and Norfolk last year, one of which was fatal. The victims ranged in age from late-40s to mid-80s. Lutzi added there is a possibility three of the local cases were contracted elsewhere in Ontario.
As part of its monitoring program, the health unit tested 59 sites last year where mosquitoes breed. Five of these produced mosquitoes that tested positive for West Nile virus.
Positive mosquitoes were confirmed in Simcoe, Caledonia, Dunnville and Cayuga. Tests on mosquitoes from Jarvis, Delhi, Port Dover and Port Rowan came back negative.
The health unit isn’t sure field testing of this sort is useful given that local residents who came down with West Nile last year were not within range of areas where mosquitoes tested positive.
“These results…reaffirm that personal precautions should be taken whether or not surveillance results indicate the presence of West Nile virus,” Lutzi says in his report.
Also noteworthy was the return of EEEV after a nine-year absence. Four cases were confirmed in horses in Haldimand last year. EEEV is of interest to health officials because one human case was confirmed in Ontario in 2016.
“Last year is a clear reminder that EEEV remains a threat locally,” Lutzi said. “Equine owners should ensure their horses are vaccinated.”
“Vector-borne diseases” such as Lyme, West Nile and EEEV are monitored because they are spread by parasites that benefit from the recent trend toward warmer springs and summers.
If this trend continues, Lutzi said health officials can expect to see more instances of these potentially serious illnesses.
Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria transmitted by tick bites. It is difficult to diagnose because it resembles many other illnesses that produce flu-like symptoms.
Lyme disease can persist for years. The most serious complication is heart and organ damage that can ultimately prove fatal.
West Nile disease is believed to have arrived in North America 30 or so years ago in mosquitoes that hitched a ride on jet planes from Africa and the Middle East. Most people exposed to the virus exhibit no symptoms but in others the ailment produces long-term debilitation and death.
Being an encephalitic pathogen, EEEV inflames brain and nerve tissue with the potential for long-term debilitation in victims who survive.
Norfolk council serves as the board of health for both Norfolk and Haldimand due to Norfolk’s larger population.