Ticks and Lyme Disease – Frequently Asked Questions
- 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 to 5
mm in length. Ticks feed on blood by attaching to humans and animals.
- Where do ticks live?
Ticks live in or near wooded or grassy areas. 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.
- 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 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 a tick, grasp the
tick as close to the skin as possible and pull it straight out (with tweezers, or other tick removal devices,
such as a “tick key”). DO NOT squeeze the tick or try to burn it off. 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 to you for longer than 24 hours, and you
removed the tick in the last 72 hours, contact your health care provider to discuss if a preventative dose
of antibiotics to decrease your risk of Lyme disease is appropriate for you.
- How is Lyme disease diagnosed?
Health care providers base their diagnosis of Lyme disease on a number of factors including:
Depending on the answers to the questions above, your health care provider may go ahead and
diagnosis you with Lyme disease or may recommend a blood test for Lyme disease.
- Is there a known tick exposure?
- Where did the tick exposure occur (geographical area)?
- How long was the tick attached?
- Are there any signs and symptoms?
- 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 that usually appears 3 to10 days after the
tick bite. Other symptoms include fever, headache, and muscle and joint pain. It is important to consult
a health care professional if you experience these symptoms.
- Is there treatment for Lyme disease?
Yes. Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics. It is important to remember that not all ticks carry the
bacteria that cause Lyme disease. Also, if a tick is infected with the Lyme disease bacteria, it needs to
be attached for at least 24 hours to transmit the bacteria. This means that having a tick bite does not
necessarily mean that antibiotics are needed. 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?
You can protect yourself from tick bites by:
- Wearing light-coloured clothing and long-sleeved shirts and pants if you are going to be in long
grass or wooded areas. Tuck your pants into your socks and avoid wearing sandals.
- Use insect repellents that are federally regulated (i.e. contain DEET). Read the manufacturers’
directions for safe use.
- When you return from being outdoors, check your clothing, body, and pets for ticks. Having a
shower will remove a tick if it hasn’t attached yet.
- Can I catch Lyme disease from my pet?
No. Lyme disease does not spread from pets to humans. A human can only become infected with Lyme
disease from the bite of an infected tick. However, 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 a “tick key”), 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.
Programs and Services
Since 2006, members of our community have assisted public health in the passive surveillance of ticks by submitting these specimens for identification and testing. This data has helped us determine that KFL&A has an established population of blacklegged ticks which carry Borelia Burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. In 2013, 23% of tick specimens submitted to KFL&A Public Health were positive for B. Burgdorferi. Based on this information, we have determined that the KFL&A is a high risk area for Lyme disease.
KFL&A Public Health no longer requires tick submissions from the public. It is now more important to track the movement of tick populations which can only be done by collecting ticks in a systematic way. Active surveillance of Lyme disease will continue through seasonal "tick dragging", monitoring the number of human cases and tracking the number of emergency room visits and human disease patterns.
Effective immediately, KFL&A Public Health will no longer accept tick submissions for testing.
The testing of ticks is not used for the purposes of diagnosing Lyme disease, rather it is a tool for surveillance. Ticks can transmit infection only after being attached for more than 24 hours and that, rather than testing ticks, is the main criterion for deciding about preventive antibiotics.
Please refer to the links to the right for more information on Lyme disease, prophylaxis and treatment, and clinical Lyme disease case report forms.
Health Information Sheets
Communicable Disease Program
1-800-267-7875, ext. 1287