- 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 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, if possible). DO NOT squeeze or try to burn the tick off. Clean the bite area with soap and water or disinfectant. 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. Call KFL&A Public Health at 613-549-1232 to see if it should be submitted for testing.
- 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 in the area of the bite that usually appears 3-10 days after the tick bite. Other symptoms include fever, headache, muscle and joint pain. It is important to consult a healthcare 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 “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.
Programs and Services
KFL&A Public Health monitors Lyme disease activity by collecting ticks submitted by residents that have been found on humans. We do not accept ticks from animals. These ticks are submitted for testing and species identification.
Testing of ticks is NOT used for the purpose of diagnosing Lyme disease. Tick submissions are used only as a surveillance tool so KFL&A Public Health can be aware of where ticks are being found in the KFL&A area.
Tick results will take at least 8 weeks to return, but could be longer when larger quantities of ticks are submitted. KFL&A Public Health will notify you if the tick you submitted tests positive for the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
A tick must be attached to a person for at least 24 hours to transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. If the tick you are submitting 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 preventive dose of antibiotics to decrease your risk for Lyme disease is appropriate for you.
Symptoms of Lyme disease in humans may include, but are not limited to, a “bull’s eye” rash, fever, headache, fatigue, and muscle and joint pain. If you develop signs and symptoms of Lyme disease contact your health care provider immediately.
Health Information Sheets
Communicable Disease Program
1-800-267-7875, ext. 1287
Page last updated: 2012-Sep-05
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