There’s a lot of “outdoors” in Ontario and good weather leads to camping, hiking, picnics or even a day at the beach. A little bit of preparation will make sure that Lyme disease doesn’t sideline your summer outdoor adventures.
Lyme disease can be a serious illness. It can be spread to humans by the bite of an infected tick. Lyme disease is gaining attention as health officials see an increase in cases originating in Ontario and a rise of reported cases in the United States. In Ontario, this increase is due to the tick population expanding into new areas of the province.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread by the bite of deer ticks, also known as blacklegged ticks. These ticks cannot fly, but settle on tall grasses and bushes and attach themselves to a person or animal passing by.
Lyme disease bacteria can be found in ticks throughout Ontario, but primarily along the north shores of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. Established populations of infected ticks have been found in Long Point, Turkey Point and Rondeau Provincial Parks, as well as Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area, Point Pelee National Park, St. Lawrence Islands National Park and the Wainfleet Bog Conservation Area.
To date, we do not have any evidence of established blacklegged tick populations in Grey Bruce. On average, 1-2 ticks per year are submitted to Public Health for investigation; most are groundhog ticks. It is possible for infected ticks to drop from birds migrating through the area and climate changes may allow the tick and its bacterial infection to establish in Grey Bruce in the future. It is important for us to recognize when this happens. Public Health is looking into ways to increase surveillance for Lyme disease so that we can be ready when this happens.
The key to avoid getting Lyme disease is to prevent the ticks from biting by:
- Wearing light-coloured clothing. It makes ticks easier to spot.
- Wearing closed footwear and socks, a long sleeved shirt and long pants. Tuck your pants into your socks and your shirt into your pants.
- Using a tick repellent with DEET; following the manufacturer’s directions.
- If in an area where you might be bitten by ticks, search your body for ticks at least once a day. Pay special attention to the scalp, groin and armpits.
- If you do locate a tick on your body, use tweezers to remove it. Grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible. Pull it straight out, gently but firmly and clean the area with soap and water or alcohol. If you can, save the tick (it doesn’t have to be alive) in a jar or screw top bottle. Take it to your doctor for testing.
If you have been in an area known to contain Lyme disease carrying ticks, watch out for the following symptoms: fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, fatigue and a skin rash in the shape of a bull’s eye. If you are exhibiting these symptoms, let your doctor or health care provider know immediately.
Lyme disease does not pass from person-to-person. However, dogs and cats can carry the ticks into your home or yard increasing exposure of people to ticks. Dog’s are also susceptible to Lyme disease although you can not catch the disease from your pet. Take precautions by using a veterinary approved tick control product. Check your pets regularly for ticks and speak to your local veterinarian about how to submit ticks for testing.
To learn more about Lyme disease, talk to your family doctor or healthcare provider, contact Public Health at 519-376-9420 or 1-800-263-3456, or visit www.ontario.ca/lyme.
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