Lyme disease is an infectious disease spread through the bite of infected ticks. Ticks become infected when they come into contact with a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. Ticks can come in contact with this bacteria by feeding on infected wild animals, such as birds and rodents. Once the tick is infected, it can spread the bacteria to humans and pets. This bacteria, which affects the heart, lungs, joints and the central nervous system is what causes Lyme disease.
Although there are many types of ticks, not all of them have the potential of transmitting Lyme disease. In fact, only one species of ticks that are found in Ontario, called blacklegged ticks, can transmit the disease. This type of tick is most commonly found in humid, wooded or forested areas. They can also be found in areas with tall grass, in leaf litter or on shrubs.
Currently, our region is not considered a risk area for Lyme disease. In fact, the most common species of ticks found in our region are called the wood ticks, which are harmless to humans and do not have the potential to carry Lyme disease. However, since the number of blacklegged ticks is increasing in our area and about 20 percent of them carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, it is important to understand how to protect ourselves from tick bites.
The risks of getting a tick bite increases during the spring and summer months. If you work outdoors or participate in outdoor activities, such as camping, hiking or golfing, you may be at a greater risk for tick bites.
Here are some tips to help protect yourself against Lyme disease:
- Avoid places with long grasses. If you are hiking or walking, stay in the centre of the trail.
- Wear light clothing to make it easier to find ticks.
- Wear clothing that covers as much skin as possible. For example, long sleeved shirts that fit tightly around your wrists and long pants tucked into your socks.
- Use an insect repellent with DEET.
- Check yourself, your children and your pets for ticks after being outdoors. Ensure that you check head to toe, with special attention to your scalp, ankles, armpits, groin, navel and behind your ears and knees.
- Have a hot shower after checking for ticks, if possible.
- Wash your clothes with hot water and use the hottest setting on your dryer to kill any ticks that you may have missed.
If you are bitten by a tick, detecting the bite early and removing the tick is one of the best ways to prevent Lyme disease. Ticks are able to lock into your skin when they bite (usually the ticks mouth will be under the skin while the back parts will be sticking out). If you discover one on your body, use fine-tipped tweezers to carefully remove it without crushing the tick’s body (do not twist or turn the tweezers). Once the whole tick is removed, put it in a clean container and mark the date and geographic location of where the tick was picked up and bring it to your local health unit. Treat the bite by cleaning the area with soap and water or by applying rubbing alcohol.
If a blacklegged tick is carrying the Lyme-causing bacteria and it is removed quickly from your body, it is unlikely that Lyme disease will be transmitted. In fact, infected ticks generally need to be feeding for over 24 hours until the infection can be transmitted to the host. However, if you are concerned about your tick bite, it is important to see your health provider right away. If Lyme disease is not identified and treated early, it can cause serious health issues.
For more information, please visit the following websites:
Government of Ontario: https://www.ontario.ca/page/lyme-disease
Thunder Bay and District Health Unit: http://www.tbdhu.com/health-topics/diseases-infections/diseases-z/lyme-disease