Do ticks and Lyme disease make you wary of going outdoors?
Make sure you know how to protect yourself, your pets, and your loved ones when you embark on an adventure.
The most effective way to prevent Lyme and other tick-borne diseases is to prevent tick bites.
What is Lyme disease?
Ontarians are fortunate to have a wealth of wilderness areas that provide us with ample opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. But one thing to watch out for when you’re outdoors, especially in wooded areas and areas with tall grasses, shrubs and bushes, is Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected black-legged tick. Health officials are seeing an increase in the number of cases in the province each year.
This is due in part to the increase and expansion of blacklegged tick populations to new areas of the province.
One of the symptoms of Lyme disease is an expanding skin rash, which can appear 3 to 30 days after being bitten. However, many people never develop or see a rash. This can be very problematic as skipping treatment in the first stage of the disease will push you to the second stage.
In stages 2 and 3, other symptoms may develop, such as fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, problems with heartbeat, breathing, balance, and short-term memory. In rare cases, Lyme disease can lead to death.
It is important to see your healthcare provider as soon as possible if you have symptoms or do not feel well in the weeks after a tick bite. The sooner treatment is received, the better.
How do people get Lyme disease?
Blacklegged ticks cannot fly. Ticks settle in trees, brushy areas and tall grass. The tick waits in a crouch with its arms extended outward. The tick will attach itself to a passing person or animal when it crosses its path.
Ticks are known to feed on migratory birds and can be transported throughout the province.
Lyme disease is not transmitted from person to person; However, dogs and cats can carry blacklegged ticks inside and put families at risk of being bitten.
Check your pets daily for ticks and talk to your veterinarian about how to keep your pet protected from ticks. Remember that you are at risk by spending time in the same environments.
When you are in tick habitat, protect yourself by taking these precautions:
- Wear light-colored clothing. Makes ticks easier to spot.
- Wear closed-toed shoes and socks and a long-sleeved shirt tucked into long pants. Tuck your pants into your socks
- Use a tick repellent that has DEET or icaridin on your clothing and exposed skin (be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions).
- Check for ticks on your clothing and body at least once a day, paying special attention to areas such as the groin, belly button, armpits, scalp, and behind the ears and knees.
- Use a mirror to check the back of your body or ask someone else to do it for you. Don’t forget to check the box for children in your care.
- Place outdoor clothing in the dryer cycle for 60 minutes on high heat before washing to kill any ticks that may be difficult to see.
What happens if I find a tick?
- Grab around the swollen belly and squeeze the tick.
- Use a match, heat, or chemicals to try to remove the tick.
- Twist the tick as you remove it.
Current Lyme Disease Risk Areas in Ontario
While not all blacklegged ticks can cause Lyme disease, there has been an increase in the number of areas in Ontario where blacklegged ticks have been identified or are known to exist.
Ticks infected with Lyme and other diseases continue to spread as the climate in Canada warms. Ticks are moving further north with the help of migratory birds and their ability to survive mild winters.
For more details, review the Lyme disease risk area map below:
Although the probability is low, it is possible to find an infected tick almost anywhere in the province.
For more information, consult Public Health Ontario or the Ontario Ministry of Health.