Lyme Disease

While most of our blog topics relate to the health of your furry friends, this one is specific to Lyme disease and your health. What is Lyme disease, how do you get it, and how to prevent it? With so much discussion about it in the news, we thought this might be a helpful topic.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is an illness caused by a bacteria that is spread through the bite of an infected deer (black-legged) tick. Ticks are small bugs, which feed off the blood of animals and humans. They are about the size of a sesame seed. Ticks are not highly mobile on their own and don’t have wings to cover a lot of ground. Instead of actively seeking hosts afoot, ticks will engage in a behaviour called questing in which they climb up to the top of a blade of grass or leaf and wait for an animal (or person) to brush by. When this happens, they will grab on. It is important to note not all tick bites will spread Lyme disease as not all ticks are infected with the Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease) bacteria.

Where are infected ticks found in Ontario?

The north shores of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River are known areas of black-legged tick populations. It includes Long Point Provincial Park, Turkey Point Provincial Park, Rondeau Provincial Park, Point Pelee National Park, Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area, Wainfleet Bog Conservation Area and St. Lawrence Islands National Park Area. The risk for exposure is highest in these regions where ticks infected with the bacteria that cause Lyme disease are known to be established. There is evidence that black-legged ticks are in the Rouge Valley — Durham Region, City of Toronto, and York Region health units have all found ticks that have tested positive for the bacteria causing Lyme disease.

People are building homes closer to wooded areas where ticks generally live, and they also attach to host animals like mice, rats, deer, and birds. These rodents and small mammals then make it onto the streets of urban areas, increasing the chances that a tick could eventually find — and bite — you. Ticks can carry more than one virus at a time, and symptoms might not show up right away, if at all.

What happens if I get bit by a tick? How do I remove it?

  • You can remove a tick by grasping it with tweezers as close to the skin as possible and slowly pull the tick straight out until the tick is removed.
  • Do not squeeze the tick!
  • Thoroughly cleanse the bite site after removing the tick.
  • Place the tick in a moistened paper towel and place in a screw top container such as a pill bottle or sealed plastic bag.
  • You can store the tick in the refrigerator or freezer until the tick can be submitted for testing.
  • Follow this same procedure for a tick found on your pet.
  • It is highly recommended to submit the tick to your public health unit, veterinarian or doctor for testing.

Symptoms of Lyme disease

It is important to note symptoms can vary greatly from person to person, if they present at all, and may not appear for weeks after and therefore may not be associated with a tick bite.

Lyme disease symptoms may include any one or combination of the following:

  • Fever or chills
  • Fatigue
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Skin rash
  • Headache
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Cognitive dysfunction or dizziness
  • Arthritic symptoms abnormal heartbeat
  • The sooner you seek treatment, the sooner you can begin recovery

How do I protect myself from Lyme disease?

Remember that ticks typically get onto your body somewhere near your shoes or pants, but they often climb up once they’re on you. Keeping your pants tucked into socks or boots and wearing light-coloured clothing when you are in wooded areas makes ticks easier to spot, too. Search your body for ticks, especially groin, scalp, underarm and back. If you see a tick remove any attached ticks as quickly as possible.

Wear an insect repellent containing at least 20% DEET —though parents should also be careful when using DEET on children, applying it only once daily to exposed areas and avoiding the hands to reduce chances of the chemical getting in your child’s mouth. DEET is not recommended for babies younger than two months old.

Also, use the synthetic insect repellant permethrin on clothes – it’ll keep ticks away for up to two weeks. Please note that although dogs can get Lyme disease and may bring infected ticks into your home, they cannot transmit Lyme disease to humans. Speak with your veterinarian about how to protect your pets from ticks.

Here is a video of some ticks that we pulled off one of our furry clients.