Ticks and Lyme Disease
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is an illness caused by the bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, which can be spread through the bite of certain types of ticks. In Ontario, black-legged ticks (also known as deer ticks) are the main species of ticks responsible for spreading Lyme disease. Ticks live in and around wooded areas and they get infected when they feed on mice, squirrels, birds and other small animals that carry the bacteria. Ticks then spread the bacteria to humans.
What is a tick?
Ticks are small biting arachnids (related to scorpions, spiders and mites) that feed on blood. Ticks cannot fly or jump. Ticks vary in size and colour. Before feeding, adult ticks are approximately 1-5 mm in length. Ticks feed on blood by attaching to humans and animals.
Where are ticks found?
Ticks live in or near forests and the overgrown areas between the woods and open spaces. You may come into contact with ticks during outdoor activities around your home or when walking through areas with leaf litter or long grass. In order to avoid ticks, always walk in the center of trails. Black-legged ticks are found throughout the KFL&A area.
Do all ticks carry the Lyme disease bacteria?
No. In fact, the majority of black-legged ticks do NOT carry Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. Approximately 1 in 5 ticks found in the KFL&A area test positive for this bacteria.
How long does a tick need to be attached to a human to transmit Lyme disease?
Ticks are most likely to transmit infection after being attached for more than 24 hours because the bacteria require time to move from the tick’s gut to its salivary glands. Because of this delay, prompt detection and removal of ticks is one of the key methods of preventing Lyme disease.
What do I do if I find a tick on me?
If you find a tick attached to your body, remove the tick as soon as possible. To remove, use tweezers to grasp the tick gently by the head as close to the skin as possible and pull straight out. DO NOT squeeze or try to burn the tick off as this may increase the chance of infection. Clean the bite area with soap and water. Sometimes the tick’s head is left in your body after you pull it out. Do not be alarmed as the tick can no longer transmit Lyme disease. If the tick was attached for more than 24 hours and has been removed in the past 72 hours, see your healthcare provider to discuss preventative antibiotics.
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
Symptoms of Lyme disease usually appear three days to several weeks after being bitten by an infected tick. The first symptom is often a red, bulls-eye rash in the area of the bite that usually appears 3-10 days after the tick bite. Other symptoms include fever, headache, and muscle pain. Late symptoms can also include weight-bearing joint pain or heart problems. It is important to consult a healthcare professional if you experience these symptoms.
How is Lyme disease diagnosed?
Health care providers base their diagnosis of Lyme disease on a number of factors including:
- whether there was a known tick exposure,
- the geographical location of the exposure,
- length of time of tick attachment, and
- assessment of signs and symptoms
A blood test for Lyme disease is not always necessary in early Lyme disease; it may only be done if you have symptoms other than a rash.
Is there treatment for Lyme disease?
Yes. Lyme disease is treated with 2 to 4 weeks of antibiotics. If you are diagnosed in the later stages of the disease, you may require a longer course of treatment. Treatment decisions need to be made with your health care provider and should be based on how long the tick was attached, where the tick came from and possible signs and symptoms that you are experiencing.
How can I prevent tick bites?
When you venture into forests or overgrown areas, you can protect yourself from tick bites by:
Can I catch Lyme disease from my pet?
- wearing light-coloured clothes to spot ticks easier
- wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants. Pull socks over pant legs. Wear closed-toe shoes.
- use insect repellents that are federally regulated (i.e. contain DEET or Icaridin). Read the manufacturers’ directions for safe use.
- shower within 2 hours of being outdoors to wash away loose ticks.
- do a “full-body” check for ticks on yourself, children and pets.
No. Lyme disease does not spread directly from pets to humans. Pets can, however, carry an infected tick into your home or yard. A human can only become infected with Lyme disease from the bite of an infected tick. If you spend time outdoors with your pet and notice that they have a tick, check your body carefully as you could also have a tick on you.
What do I do if I find a tick on my pet?
Ticks should be removed from both pets and humans as soon as they are noticed. To remove a tick from your pet, use the same technique that you would use for yourself. Using tweezers or other tick removal devices (such as “tick keys”), gently grasp the tick by the head as close to the skin as possible. Pull the tick straight out and be careful not to squeeze it. If you have concerns about your pet’s health, call your veterinarian for advice.