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Infectious Diseases

Lyme Disease and Ticks

If you are an outdoor worker or participate in outdoor activities such as hiking and camping, where you may spend time in wooded and overgrown areas, you could be at risk of a tick bite. However, not all ticks carry diseases and bites are preventable. Our role is to reduce public risk to vector borne diseases like Lyme disease by providing education and monitoring for the presence of ticks (vectors) of public health concern.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted to humans through a bite from an infected blacklegged tick, also called a deer tick. Not all ticks carry Lyme disease and you cannot tell if a tick is infected with the bacteria responsible for causing Lyme disease by looking at it. Even with a bite from an infected tick, there is only a small chance of getting Lyme disease.

Tick bites are usually painless and most people do not know that they have been bitten. Ticks feed on blood by inserting their mouth into the skin of a person or an animal. Infected ticks must attach and feed on a person for more than one day (greater than 24 hours) before the bacteria can be transmitted. A complete blood meal can take several days.

Lyme disease has become a common problem in parts of the U.S. and can also be acquired in certain parts of Canada including Ontario. These ticks are often found in forests and overgrown areas with long grass such as fields and trails.

Symptoms of Lyme disease usually begin within three days to one month after a tick bite from an infected tick. Symptoms can vary from person to person. Some people may not have any symptoms and others may suffer severe symptoms. Seek medical advice if you are concerned about Lyme disease following a tick bite and/or develop these symptoms: fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, fatigue and a skin rash, especially one that looks like a red bull's eye (called erythema migrans).

It is very important to tell your doctor when you were bitten by a tick, how long the tick was attached, and where you might have picked up the tick.

For more information about Lyme disease symptoms, refer to the Government of Canada's website.

It is important to seek medical attention if you develop symptoms within 30 days of a suspected tick bite. If your health care provider thinks you have recently become infected with Lyme disease, they will prescribe an antibiotic. If treated early with appropriate antibiotics, people can expect to make a full recovery.

If the initial infection is not treated, then infection can become difficult to treat and patients may experience joint, heart, and neurological symptoms.

A person who is bitten should remove the tick and bring the tick to their local public health unit office. We will send the tick away for identification and bacterial testing (blacklegged ticks are the only type of tick tested and are known to carry the Lyme disease bacteria).

For more information on Lyme disease treatment, visit the Government of Canada's website.

  • Wear light-coloured clothing and tuck pants into socks and shirts into pants to minimize exposure to ticks. Light coloured clothing makes ticks easier to spot.
  • Use personal insect repellent such as DEET or Icaridin (to apply, follow manufacturer's recommendations).
  • Put a tick and flea collar on your pet and check for ticks periodically. Discuss options for tick prevention with your veterinarian.
  • When you return from being outdoors:
    • - do a full body check of yourself, children, and pets; if you find a tick, remove it immediately (see below); and
    • - shower or bath within 2 hours to check private areas and wash away any loose ticks that may be on your body or in your hair.
  • People who work outside can protect themselves from tick bites by following the Ministry of Labour recommendations.
  • For more prevention tips to protect yourself and your family, visit the Health Canada website, the Government of Canada website, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care Bug Buy video, and the Public Health Ontario website.
  • Quick removal of ticks from your skin will help prevent infection. The Lyme disease bacteria usually needs the tick to be attached for between 24-26 hours.
  • Using fine-tipped tweezers, carefully grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible. Pull it straight out, gently but firmly.
  • Don't squeeze it. Squeezing the tick can cause the Lyme disease bacteria to be accidentally introduced into your body.
  • Don't put anything on the tick, or try to burn the tick off.
  • After the tick has been removed, place it in a screw-top bottle or a sealed bag (like a pill vial or sandwich bag), and take it to your health care provider or local health unit. They can send it to the Ontario Public Health Laboratory for identification.
  • It is important to remember where you most likely acquired the tick. It will help public health workers to identify areas of higher risk.
  • Clean the bite with rubbing alcohol and/or soap and water.
  • Speak to your health care provider to help assess your risk of Lyme disease.
If you find a tick, bring it to your local health unit. To speed up the drop-off process, you may fill out the form online, print, and bring it in with the tick. Following your submission, one of our health unit staff members will contact you to go over the form. Public Health Ontario provides more information on submitting a tick for testing.

Removing tick "living" areas around your home is key in protecting you and your family. Recommendations include:

  • Keep your grass mowed and trimmed.
  • Rake and remove piles of leaves, brush, and weeds from your lawn and lawn ornaments.
  • Move woodpiles and bird feeders away from the house.
  • Your pets can bring ticks into your home. Check your pets often and talk to your vet about ticks, repellents for your pets, and do not place swing sets, sandboxes, or patios near the edge of property where there are overgrown areas or forests.
Public Health Ontario monitors blacklegged tick populations within Ontario and publishes an estimated Lyme disease risk area map each year identifying areas within Ontario where blacklegged ticks infected with Lyme disease have been found.

We have a local program to help prevent and reduce the risk of tick borne diseases like Lyme disease. Our program includes monitoring tick populations by actively looking for ticks in areas where ticks have been found (tick dragging) and submitting ticks that have been found attached to people for laboratory identification and Lyme disease testing.

When human cases are reported to us, we follow up with people that have been diagnosed by their health care provider to assess where they may have been exposed to ticks and to answer questions and provide information.

Other Tick Borne Diseases

In addition to Lyme disease, Powassan virus, Anaplasmosis, and Babesiosis are examples of other diseases that can be transmitted through the bite of an infected tick.

If you are travelling locally within Ontario, Canada, or beyond, there is a chance that you may come into contact with different types of ticks and tick borne diseases. If you have questions or concerns about tick borne diseases, it is important to speak with your health care provider.

Public Health Ontario and the Public Health Agency of Canada regularly monitors to see if blacklegged ticks, the vector of Lyme disease, are carrying and transmitting other tick borne diseases such as those listed above.

Powassan Virus

Powassan Virus (POW) is rare tick born disease spread to humans or animals through an infected blacklegged tick. You can learn more about the Powassan virus from Health Canada.

Anaplasmosis

Anaplasmosis is a rare tick borne disease spread by blacklegged and western blacklegged ticks infected with Anaplasma phagocytophilum. You can learn more about Anaplasmosis from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Babesiosis

Blacklegged ticks infected with Babesia microti can cause Babesiosis. Babesiosis is a tick born disease that can infect red blood cells. You can learn more about Babesiosis from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

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