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Staying Healthy Outdoors

What you Need To Know About Ticks and Lyme Disease

We hear a lot about Lyme disease these days, and the dangers of being infected because of a tick. In Toronto the risks are still low, but it is always important to know how to protect yourself, particularly if you enjoy outdoor activities summer through fall in wooded areas that are identified as higher risk zones.

How Do You Get Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is acquired by being infected by a bacteria called B. burgdorferi. Humans become infected if they are bitten by an infected black legged tick (also known as deer ticks). 

What is a tick?

Ticks are members of the spider family, and look a bit like tiny spiders. Ticks get under the skin of humans, reptiles, birds and animals and feed on their blood. 

Do all ticks carry the bacteria responsible for Lyme Disease?

No. Although any tick can spread disease, only the black legged tick carries the B. burgdorferi bacteria that causes the aching, fatigue and flu-like symptoms of Lyme Disease.

How do I know if I’ve been bitten?

Ticks can stay under your skin for several days while feeding so if you’ve been outside in a wooded area, it is wise to check your clothing and your body for signs of a tick’s body. Showering within two hours is also a good idea. 

What if I find a tick?

Ticks need to be removed carefully so that you don’t leave any part behind. Public Health also asks that you save the tick in a bottle so it can be checked for disease. This is one way they track the spread. 

What about pets?

Pets are lucky. They can be protected from any flea bites with medication. Otherwise, your pet can carry the disease as well. 

Protecting yourself

There are various measures you can take, similar to protecting against mosquito bites. 

  • Wear insect repellent that contains DEET or “icariin”. 
  • Cover up, wearing light coloured clothing, closed-toe shoes, and tuck your pants into your socks.

Who’s at greatest risk?

The greatest risk of acquiring Lyme disease occurs when the specific ticks that carry the bacteria (B. burgdorferi) are found. Fortunately, our public health systems are monitoring these factors, and keep track of the areas in eastern and central Canada where the ticks are found. 

In Ontario, currently identified risk areas for Lyme disease are:

  • Along the north shores of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario
  • Parts of Thousand Islands National Park
  • Kingston and surrounding area along the St. Lawrence Valley to the border with Quebec and northeast towards Ottawa
  • Northwestern Ontario in the region of Lake of the Woods
  • Pinery Park on the shore of Lake Huron

Public Health Ontario’s Lyme disease page has a map that shows areas in Ontario where they estimate you are more likely to find blacklegged ticks.

For more information on ticks, visit toronto.ca/lyme.