Ticks & Lyme Disease
Find a tick? Is it a blacklegged tick?
The best way to determine if a tick can carry Lyme disease is to submit a photograph of it to the website www.etick.ca. It is very easy to use – just upload a photo of the tick and you will receive an email identifying the species of tick. If you are experiencing a long turnaround time, check your spam folder in your email and double check the information you entered is correct. The blacklegged tick is the only species that can carry Lyme disease in Ontario.
Do I need to seek my health care provider?
If your tick was identified as a blacklegged tick and it was attached to you, you should talk with your health care provider and monitor for symptoms of Lyme disease.
Symptoms can include:
- Muscle and joint pain
- Spasms, numbness and tingling
- Facial paralysis
- Swollen glands
- Spreading skin rash (not everyone with Lyme disease develops a rash)
See your health care provider right away whether you have symptoms or are just feeling unwell in the weeks following a tick bite.
Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with antibiotics. Left untreated, Lyme disease can last years and cause recurring arthritis, and neurological problems.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection in humans caused by the bacterial agent Borrelia burgdorferi. Humans can get this infection from the bite of a blacklegged tick (also known as a deer tick) that carries the bacterium. An infected tick will most likely pass the bacterium to a human when it has been attached for at least 24-36 hours. Ticks become infected with the B. burgdorferi bacteria after feeding on birds and small animals such as mice and squirrels, which are natural carriers of these bacteria. Not all blacklegged ticks carry Borrelia burgdorferi.
What are blacklegged ticks?
Blacklegged ticks are slow moving, non-flying parasites that are closely related to spiders and mites. Adult blacklegged ticks are typically red and dark brown in colour and very small (1 to 5 mm in length) when unfed. Young ticks or nymphs are lighter in colour and even smaller in size. As ticks feed, they can grow to the size of a grape. All active stages of ticks feed on blood in order to grow and develop.
Where can you find blacklegged ticks?
Ticks can be found in wooded or marshland areas as well as places with tall grasses and bushes. In Ontario, locations with well-established blacklegged tick populations include:
- Long Point peninsula including Long Point Provincial Park and the National Wildlife
- Pinery Provincial Park
- Point Pelee National Park
- Prince Edward County
- Parts of the Thousand Islands National Park
- Rondeau Provincial Park
- Rouge Valley and areas of Toronto and Durham
- Turkey Point Provincial Park
- Wainfleet bog region near Welland
Tick populations in Ontario are expanding into new regions of the province, including Eastern Ontario. Ticks can attach themselves to migratory birds and travel anywhere in the province, so it is important to be "tick smart" anytime you are travelling to a potential tick habitat. People can come in contact with blacklegged ticks, or be infected with Lyme disease, almost anywhere in Ontario.
For additional endemic regions in Canada, please visit the surveillance section of the Public Health Agency of Canada.
For information about the risk for contracting Lyme disease while travelling to other countries, please visit the World Health Organization (WHO).
To maintain ticks around your home and vacation property, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on preventing ticks in the yard.
What are the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease?
The signs of Lyme disease can be categorized into 3 different stages:
Stage 1: The first sign of infection is usually a circular rash in the shape of a bull’s eye, however not everyone that becomes infected with Lyme disease will develop this rash. Additional signs and symptoms include fever, chills, headache, muscle and joint pain, fatigue and swollen lymph nodes. Once bitten by an infected blacklegged tick, it can take anywhere from 3 days to one month for these signs and symptoms to appear.
Stage 2: Signs and symptoms of later stage infection include migraines, weakness, multiple skin rashes, painful or stiff joints, abnormal heartbeat and extreme fatigue. The second stage of Lyme disease can last several months.
Stage 3: If untreated late stage symptoms can include chronic arthritis and neurological symptoms, headaches, dizziness, numbness and paralysis. The third stage of the disease can last up to several years if untreated. However, it is rare for the symptoms of Lyme disease to become this severe because the disease is often treated in the earlier stages. Death from Lyme disease is also rare. During pregnancy, Lyme disease can pose serious health risks to the baby.
What is the diagnosis and treatment for Lyme disease?
Lyme disease in its early stages is difficult to detect through blood tests. Early diagnosis of Lyme disease requires an assessment of signs and symptoms, as well as relevant travel history to tick habitat, and Lyme disease risk areas. As Lyme disease progresses, blood tests are able to detect and confirm Lyme infection. Antibiotics are used to treat Lyme disease, and in most cases, if antibiotic treatment begins early, the patient is cured in 2-4 weeks.
If you are bitten by a tick, safely remove it and submit a photograph of it to the website www.etick.ca. It is very easy to use – just upload a photo of the tick and you will receive an email identifying the species of tick. If the tick is identified as a blacklegged tick, it will then be sent for analysis to determine if it is carrying Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterial agent of Lyme disease. All results of identification and analysis will be communicated to you and your physician, if required.
How common is infection?
In Canada, as the climate gets warmer the risk of infection will increase as blacklegged ticks are able to thrive in more northern locations. For the most up to date information on the prevalence of Lyme disease in Ontario and Canada please visit the following websites:
How can I be "Tick Smart"?
The key to preventing Lyme disease is doing what you can to protect yourself and your home. Since ticks can potentially travel to all areas of the province, it is important to be safe when entering any wooded area, especially those with documented tick populations. When entering these areas be sure to take the following personal precautions:
- Wear long clothing when outdoors. This includes long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks. Shirts should be tucked into pants and pants tucked into socks.
- Wear light coloured clothing. Ticks are more visible on light coloured materials. This will help you see and remove the tick.
- Use an insect repellent containing DEET. Apply insect repellent sparingly to your clothing and exposed skin to keep ticks away. Do not apply bug repellent under clothing and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
- When hiking be sure to keep to the middle of the trail to minimize your contact with tall grasses and bushes. These are potential spots where ticks can be found.
- Check your clothing and entire body for ticks after returning from being outdoors. Pay special attention to hidden areas like the groin, armpit, scalp, and back of the knee. You can use a mirror to do this or have someone help you.
- Check pets for ticks because pets can also pick ticks up from outdoor areas. Although Lyme disease cannot be passed from a pet to a human, animals can bring ticks into your home. It is important to check your pets regularly.
- Take a shower as soon as you can after being outdoors to wash off any ticks crawling on you.
- Place outdoor clothing through the dryer cycle for 60 minutes on high heat before washing. Ticks thrive in wet environments and will not survive the heat of the dryer.
It is also important to be “tick smart” around your house, especially if you live near a wooded area. Ticks need a humid environment to survive and this can be created by plant debris and litter. Therefore, keep your lawn neatly mowed and remove leaf debris on a regular basis. This helps to reduce humidity in your yard and lowers your risk of coming across a tick.
Venturing into tick habitat? Don’t forget to pack a safe tick removal kit this summer.
How do I remove a tick?
If you are bitten by a tick, be sure to stay calm, but remove the tick immediately. Follow the steps below to safely remove a tick from your body:
- Remove the tick using a pair of clean, fine-tipped tweezers. Never use fire, chemicals or alcohol to remove a tick.
- Holding the tweezers parallel to the skin, firmly grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible, around the mouthparts of the tick, and gently pull the tick straight out.
- Do not twist or squeeze the tick because this may cause the mouth parts to break off and stay in the skin. Squeezing may also cause the Lyme disease-causing bacterium to enter the body.
- Wash the area where the tick was removed with soap and water and/or disinfect with rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer.
- If the mouthparts break off and remain in the skin, remove them with tweezers, or if you are unable to remove them easily, leave them alone and let the skin heal.
- If you are not comfortable removing a tick, see a health care provider as soon as possible. If the tick is removed soon after attachment, it will help to prevent infection, as an infected tick has to be feeding for at least 24 hours before it can effectively transmit the bacteria to a human host.
- If you develop symptoms of Lyme disease in the weeks (3-30 days) after being bitten, contact your health care provider right away.
Tick Removal Kit
Venturing into tick habitat? Don’t forget to pack a safe tick removal kit this summer.
Tick kits should include:
- fine needle tweezers
- aseptic wipes
- rubber gloves
- container / ziplock bag to put the tick into
For information on submitting a tick please see "Submit a Tick"