What is Lyme disease?
We Ontarians are fortunate to have an abundance of wilderness that provides us great opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. But one thing to keep in mind when outside—especially in wooded areas and those with tall grasses, bushes and shrubs—is Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is spread to humans through the bite of an infected, Blacklegged Tick and health officials are seeing an increase in the number of cases in the province.
“We’ve seen a marked increase in the number of confirmed cases of Lyme disease in Ontario, particularly in the last year,” says Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health. “This is partly due to an increase and expansion of Blacklegged Tick populations to new areas of the province.”
The most common symptom of Lyme disease is an expanding skin rash, which can appear between three and 30 days after a bite. However, many people never get or see a rash.
If the disease is left untreated, other symptoms may develop including 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 in brushy areas until they attach themselves to a passing person or animal. The ticks are known to feed on migratory birds and can be carried throughout the province. Lyme disease is not transmitted from person-to-person; however, dogs and cats can carry Blacklegged Ticks inside 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. If your pet is found to have a tick, remember that you are at risk when spending time in the same environments.
When you’re out in tick habitat, protect yourself by taking these precautions:
- Wear light-coloured clothing. It makes ticks easier to spot
- Wear closed footwear 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 clothes and exposed skin (be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions)
- Search your clothes and body for ticks at least once a day, paying special attention to areas such as the groin, navel, armpits, and 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
- 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
While not all Backlegged 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.
Infected ticks are continuing to spread and can now also be found in in the Simcoe-Muskoka district, York Region and all of Eastern Ontario as well as Hamilton and parts of Northwestern Ontario.
For more details, review the Lyme disease risk area map:
While the probability is low, it is possible to encounter an infected tick almost anywhere in the province.
For more information please consult the Public Health Agency of Canada or the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.