Do ticks and Lyme disease make you wary of going outdoors this summer?
Make sure you know how to protect yourself and your loved ones when you head out on adventure this summer:
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is an infection caused by the corkscrew-shaped bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. It is transmitted to humans from animals through Ixodes scapularis, also known as the blacklegged tick.
“The number of confirmed cases of Lyme disease in Ontario has been rising since 2011,” says Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health. “This is partly due to an expansion of black-legged tick populations to new areas of the province, especially in wooded areas.”
The most commonly known symptom of Lyme disease is an expanding skin rash. The rash can begin at the site of the tick bite between three and 30 days after exposure and usually grows in size for several days. Many people never get or see a rash.
If the disease is left untreated, other symptoms may develop in the weeks following exposure, including rash, fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, problems with your heartbeat, breathing, balance and short-term memory. In rare cases Lyme disease may result in death.
“It is important to see your health care provider as early as possible if you have symptoms or if you feel unwell in the weeks following a tick bite,” says Dr. Williams. “The earlier treatment is received the better.”
How do people contract Lyme disease?
Blacklegged ticks cannot fly, but settle on grass and bushes until they attach themselves to a bypassing person or animal. The ticks are known to feed on migratory birds and can be carried throughout the province.
There are many different species of ticks in the province, but only the blacklegged tick carries Lyme disease. Young ticks, called nymphs, are most likely to be feeding from May until August. The nymph is very small, about the size of a ball point pen tip, and are often not noticed until they are engorged from feeding.
A person can become infected with Lyme disease if they are bitten by an infected tick. Dr. Williams says in most cases, the tick must usually be attached for at least 24 hours for the Lyme disease bacterium to be passed on to the host.
Lyme disease is not transmitted from person-to-person. However, dogs and cats can carry the ticks into your home and place families at risk of being bitten. Check your pets for ticks daily and talk with your vet about keeping your pet protected from ticks.
When you’re out in tick habitat, protect yourself by taking these precautions:
- Wear long sleeves and closed-toed shoes, and tuck your pants into your socks
- Wear light-coloured clothing so you can detect ticks before they latch on
- Use insect repellent containing DEET or Icaridin on clothes and exposed skin (be sure to follow manufacturer’s directions)
- When hiking, walk in the middle of paths and avoid brushing against vegetation
- Search your clothes and body for ticks at least once a day, paying special attention to areas such as the groin, navel, armpits, scalp and behind ears and knees. Use a mirror to check the back of your body or have someone else check for you. Don’t forget to tick check children in your care
- Take a shower as soon as you can after being outdoors to more easily find and wash off any ticks crawling on you
- Place outdoor clothing through the dryer cycle for 60 minutes on high heat before washing to kill any ticks that may be hard to see. Ticks thrive in wet environments
What if I find a tick?
- Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible
- Pull the tick out slowly with even pressure to ensure mouth parts are removed and body is not crushed
- Wash area with soap and warm water
- Put the tick into a container with a lid or a sealed plastic bag
- Bring the tick to your local health unit for identification
- Grasp around bloated belly and squeeze the tick
- Use a match, heat or chemicals to try and remove it
- Twist the tick when pulling it out