A common fear people have when spending time outdoors in the summer is the threat of contracting Lyme disease from being bit by an infected tick. Get tick smart before venturing outside!
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is an infection caused by the corkscrew-shaped bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi. In Ontario, this bacteria is spread by the bite of a blacklegged tick, who acquire the disease from infected rodents. The disease itself is named after the towns of Lyme and Old Lyme, Connecticut, US, where a number of cases were identified in 1975. Early symptoms of lyme disease may include fever, headache, and fatigue. A rash occurs in 70–80% of infected persons at the site of the tick bite after a delay of 3–30 days. Left untreated, later symptoms may involve the joints, heart, and central nervous system. In most cases, the infection and its symptoms are eliminated by antibiotics, especially if the illness is treated early.
Kinds of Ticks
Although there are other kinds of ticks in Ontario (e.g. Dog ticks) only the blacklegged tick can transmit Lyme disease. Dog ticks are larger and can be found anywhere in Ontario whereas blacklegged ticks are smaller and live in established populations occurring sporadically throughout Ontario. Ottawa is not yet considered to be an established area for infected blacklegged ticks, however, infected blacklegged ticks can sometimes be found in this area. Adult Blacklegged ticks are fairly easy to see, but the nymphs (a nymph is the immature form of some invertebrates, particularly insects) are much smaller and harder to see and can also transmit Lyme disease. Ticks cannot fly and thus usually latch onto you as you walk by; positioning themselves on tall grass and bushes.
Tick bite symptoms:
Symptoms usually begin within three days to one month after being bitten by an infected tick…
- circular, red rash (sometimes called a “bulls-eye” rash) that slowly expands around the tick bite
- muscle and joint pain
- swollen lymph nodes
If you are experiencing symptoms of Lyme disease please contact your health care provider immediately.
Tips on avoiding ticks:
- Watch for ticks from early spring to late fall every year.
- Avoid tick habitats such as tall grass, bushes and woods. Stay in the middle of trails, if possible.
- Do a “tick check” at the end of every day spent outdoors. Carefully inspect yourself for any ticks, starting at your ankles and moving up. Take special care around your knees, armpits and head.
- Blacklegged ticks are very small, particularly during the nymph stage, so look carefully.
- Check children and pets as well.
- Wear light-colored clothing, because it is easier to see and remove ticks
- Wear long pants and a long sleeved shirt.
- Wear closed footwear and socks
- Tuck your pants into your socks.
- Use an insect repellent that has “DEET”.
If you find a tick on you, remove it as soon as possible as the tick must be attached to your body for at least 24 hours to pass on the bacteria. Use fine-tipped tweezers to remove a tick. If you don’t have tweezers, put on gloves or cover your hands with tissue paper, then use your fingers. Do not handle the tick with bare hands.
- Grab the tick as close to its mouth (the part that is stuck in your skin) as you can. The body of the tick will be above your skin.
- Do not grab the tick around its swollen belly. You could push infected fluid from the tick into your body if you squeeze it.
- Gently pull the tick straight out until its mouth lets go of your skin. Do not twist the tick. This may break off the tick’s body and leave the head in your skin.
- Put the tick in ziplock bag and save it in the freezer for later identification if necessary.
After the tick has been removed, wash the area of the tick bite with a lot of warm water and soap. Be sure to wash your hands well with soap and water also.
More resources on tick prevention and up-to-date information on the tick population in the Ottawa area:
- Leeds, Grenville & Lanark District Health Unit Media Release: Lyme Disease and Ticks…What do you need to know
- Lyme Disease Factsheet
- City of Ottawa tick situation
- Leeds, Grenville & Lanark District Health Unit Tick Pamphlet
- Leeds, Grenville & Lanark District Health Unit Let’s Target Lyme!
- Leeds, Grenville & Lanark District Health Unit Tick Poster
- Government of Canada: Healthy Canadians > Lyme Disease
- Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care: Submission Form: Passive Surveillance for Blacklegged Ticks