How to avoid Lyme disease
Lyme disease is a potentially serious infection that you can get if you’re bitten by an infected blacklegged tick, also called a deer tick.
Eastern Ontario is a high risk area, meaning odds are that you will encounter a tiny blood sucker sometime this summer.
Not all blacklegged ticks carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, and not everyone who is bitten by an infected tick will develop signs and symptoms of Lyme disease.
Blacklegged ticks are small and hard to see. They attach themselves to humans and animals and feed on their blood. They can range in size depending on how long they have been feeding.
Public Health Ontario’s Lyme disease page has a map (called “Ontario Lyme disease estimated risk areas map, 2019”) that shows areas in Ontario where they estimate you are more likely to find blacklegged ticks.
Blacklegged ticks are spreading to new areas of the province because of climate change. They can also spread by travelling on birds and deer.
Ticks are most active in spring and summer, but can be found at any time of the year when the temperature is above freezing.
You might be at risk if you live, work in, or visit a wooded area, or an area with tall grasses and bushes.
You may also be at risk if you are involved in outdoor activities such as hiking, camping and gardening.
You may be bitten by a tick and not even know it.
Here’s what you can do to avoid getting a tick bite.
Wear light-coloured clothing, so it’s easier to see ticks. Also put on closed-toed shoes, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants that are tucked into your socks.
Use an insect repellent, or bug spray, that says “DEET” or “icaridin” on it. Put it on your clothes and exposed skin. Always read the label for directions on how to use it. Put clothes in the dryer. Kill any ticks that might be on your clothing by putting your clothes in a dryer on high heat for at least ten minutes before washing them.
Check yourself and your children.
After being outdoors, check for ticks on yourself and your children. Look behind your knees, on your head, in your belly button, in your groin area, in your underarm area, on the back of your body – use a mirror, or ask someone to check for you.
It’s a good idea to have a shower as soon as you can to wash off any ticks. Check your pets for ticks. After being outdoors, inspect your pets’ skin and remove any ticks you find.
Ask your veterinarian about options to help keep ticks off your pets. Maintain your property.
You can help keep blacklegged ticks away from your property by keeping grass mowed short, trimming bushes and tree branches to let in sunlight (ticks avoid hot, dry locations), creating a border of gravel or wood chips one metre or wider around your yard if you’re next to a wooded area, or an area with tall grasses.
Remove leaf litter, brush and weeds at the edge of the lawn and from stone walls and wood piles, move children’s swing sets, playground equipment and sandboxes away from wooded areas.
Consider placing equipment on a woodchip or mulch foundation.
Removing a tick is the same for humans and animals. It’s important you do not crush or damage the tick because it could cause Lyme bacteria to pass from the tick into your bloodstream.
Use fine-tipped tweezers and grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible.
Do not use a lit match or cigarette, nail polish or nail polish remover, petroleum jelly (e.g., Vaseline), liquid soap or kerosene to remove the tick.
Pull the tick straight out, gently but firmly.
Do not jerk or twist the tweezers while pulling the tick out.
Do not squeeze the tick – you might crush it.
Once you have removed a tick, wash your skin with soap and water and then disinfect your skin and your hands with rubbing alcohol or an iodine swab.
If not treated, Lyme disease can make you feel tired and weak and, if it gets really bad, it can even harm your heart, nerves, liver and joints. Symptoms from untreated Lyme disease can last years and include recurring arthritis and neurological problems, numbness, paralysis and, in very rare cases, death.
Your healthcare provider may diagnose you with Lyme disease depending on your signs, symptoms and risk factors.
Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with antibiotics.