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Lyme Disease: What you should know

May 15, 2015
Ticks are common parasites of wild animals. Unfortunately they also see humans as convenient hosts.

By Dr. Charles Gardner

Ticks are common parasites of wild animals. Unfortunately they also see humans as convenient hosts. In recent years a tick-borne illness called Lyme disease has moved further north into areas of Ontario. While reports of human cases are low, the incidence has been increasing, and people who spend time outdoors need to do more to protect themselves.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. It only spreads from the bite of an infected blacklegged also known as a deer tick (Ixodes scapularis). This tick can be found in areas throughout Ontario, including Simcoe Muskoka.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?

Symptoms of Lyme disease usually appear one to four weeks after a bite from an infected tick. The most common symptoms are fever, chills, extreme fatigue and/or a rash (often resembling a bull’s eye or circular rash). This rash is seen in 60 to 70 per cent of cases.

If you experience these symptoms, contact a health care provider. Explain that you have spent time outdoors - walking, hiking or camping, and if you found a tick attached to your skin.

What are ticks?

Ticks are related to spiders and are small (1–5 mm, or the size of the maple leaf on a nickel) when unfed and become larger once they are fed. Ticks normally seek blood meals from early spring to late fall as they go through their life cycle.

Ticks can’t fly or jump. Instead, they will wait on blades of grass, low lying branches or woodland ground cover until a person or animal passes by to climb onto. The bite is painless, so the best way to know you have been bitten is to find one on your skin.

I have been bitten by a tick. How do I remove it?

  1. Prompt removal of a tick, within 24–36 hours, can reduce the risk of infection from Lyme disease.
  2. Hold the tick’s head and mouth parts as close to your skin as possible with fine-tip tweezers.
  3. Gently but firmly pull straight out until the tick is removed.
  4. Do not crush or twist the tick during removal. Keep the tick by storing it in a dry, sealable container and take it to your local public health unit or health care provider. The tick can be sent away to a laboratory to find out what type it is and, if necessary, whether it is carrying the Lyme disease bacteria.
  5. After the tick is removed, wash the area of the bite with soap and water.

By submitting a tick for identification and testing, important surveillance data about where a person may have been exposed can be gathered. However, do not wait for results before contacting your health care provider if you have concerns.

Protect Yourself and Your Family

When outdoors, the best way to prevent Lyme disease is to prevent tick bites.

  • Wear light-coloured long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and a hat.
  • Wear closed shoes and tuck your pants into your socks.
  • Use an insect repellent containing DEET. Always read and follow the directions on the label.
  • Within 2 hours of outdoor activity, shower or bathe to wash away loose ticks. It is also important to do “full body” checks on yourself and family members to ensure no feeding ticks are present.

For more information, call Health Connection at 1-877-751-7520 or visit

Dr. Charles Gardner is Simcoe Muskoka’s medical officer of health.

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