Lyme disease is a serious disease that is spread by the bite of infected black-legged ticks. Lyme disease can have many symptoms, ranging from flu-like symptoms in its early stages or, if left untreated, to more serious symptoms affecting the central nervous system, brain or even heart. In Canada, the risk of Lyme disease is highest from May through August.
Learn how to protect yourself, what to look for, and what to do if you or your child shows signs of Lyme disease.
Ways to prevent to Lyme disease
- Avoid tick-infested areas
- Dress appropriately and remove attached ticks
- Use insect repellent
- Reduce the number of ticks in the environment
Ticks in Ontario
In Ontario, black-legged ticks are more commonly found in areas along the north shores of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River. Ticks especially like woodland areas with rodent, bird and deer populations. They are often found in leaf litter or low shrubs at the edge of forested habitats, such as hiking trails, but can also be found in small wooded areas of backyards.
Locations with established black-legged tick populations infected with the Lyme disease agent include:
- Long Point Provincial Park
- Pinery Provincial Park
- Point Pelee National Park
- Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area
- Rainy River area of Northwestern Ontario – infected ticks are becoming more common
- Rondeau Provincial Park
- Rouge Valley and Rouge Park – eastside of the Greater Toronto area
- St. Lawrence Islands National Park area
- Turkey Point Provincial Park
- Wainfleet Bog Conservation Area
While the potential is low, it is possible for people to encounter black-legged ticks, or to be infected with Lyme disease from the bite of an infected black-legged tick, almost anywhere in the province.
In general, blacklegged ticks infected with Lyme disease are much more common in the United States along the Atlantic seaboard from Maine to Virginia and in Minnesota and Wisconsin than they are in Ontario.
If you are going outdoors, protect yourself
Outdoor activities like golfing, camping, fishing or hiking can increase the risk for tick bites. Here are the ways to protect yourself and your children:
- Wear light-coloured clothing to spot ticks easier.
- Wear long sleeves and long pants, and closed-toed shoes. For extra protection, tuck your pants into your socks.
- Try to avoid shrubs or grassy areas. Ticks are usually found low to the ground.
- Use insect repellent containing DEET or Icaridin. Read the manufacturer’s instructions before applying the repellent on yourself or children.
- Shower or bathe within two hours of being outdoors to remove loose ticks.
- Do a daily full-body check for ticks. Young black-legged ticks can be as small as a poppy seed, so look carefully. Check your children and pets for ticks as well.
If you find a tick on yourself
Black-legged ticks are very small and hard to see. If you find a tick attached to yourself or your children, do the following:
- Using clean tweezers, carefully grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Pull slowly upward, but try not to twist or crush the tick.
- Once the tick is removed, wash the area where you were bitten with soap and water or disinfect with alcohol or hand sanitizer.
- If parts of the tick’s mouth break off and remain in your skin, remove them with tweezers. If this is difficult to do, leave them alone and let the skin heal.
- If possible, save the tick in a zip-lock bag or pill bottle. Record the location and date of the bite. You can bring the tick to the Health Unit for identification.
- If it is identified as a black-legged tick, it will be sent for Lyme disease testing.
- If you develop symptoms of Lyme disease in the weeks after being bitten, contact your health care provider right away.
Know the Symptoms
Symptoms of early Lyme disease usually begin between three days and one month after being bitten by an infected tick. Prompt antibiotic treatment is effective.
Early symptoms of Lyme disease may include fever, headache, muscle and joint fatigue and an expanding red rash called erythema migrans. The rash looks like a red bull’s eye. However, not all patients with Lyme disease will develop the bull’s eye rash. If you develop these symptoms or feel like you have the flu, see your health care provider right away. Be sure to tell them if you have been camping, fishing or have been active outdoors.
If left untreated, late Lyme disease symptoms may include cardiac symptoms such as heart palpitations, arthritic symptoms, extreme fatigue, general weakness and central and peripheral nervous system disorders.
Reduce the number of ticks in the environment
- Thin trees and shrubs to reduce an area’s suitability for ticks.
- Create tick ‘unfriendly’ zones around your yard, for example by having a raised deck, keeping grass short and removing leaf litter, brush and weeds.
- If living in an area where ticks occur, build a fence to keep deer off your property.