The Department of Health urges everyone to take precautions against tick bites
Whitby, Ontario May is National Lyme Disease Awareness Month. The Durham Region Health Department reminds everyone of the need to be aware that black-legged ticks are common within the territory, especially in wooded or grassy/brushed areas, and the importance of taking precautions to avoid tick bites and Lyme disease infections. Although not all black-legged ticks are infected with Lyme disease, some ticks may carry the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi that can cause Lyme disease in humans and animals.
Ticks become active and are looking for a blood meal when the snow melts in early spring and remain active until the first heavy snowfall in late fall. While it is possible to get infected with a tick at any time during tick season, many people contract Lyme disease in the spring and early summer through a nymph bite. The nymph-stage tick, the juvenile stage of the black tick, is extremely tiny—as small as a poppy seed. It is very difficult to detect nymph bites.
Reports of tick bites and Lyme disease infection in residents of the Durham area have increased significantly over the past years, as black tick numbers have expanded throughout southern Ontario. In 2021, the Ministry of Health received reports of 103 confirmed human cases of Lyme disease compared to 24 in 2016.
“Detecting the tick and removing it from the skin promptly will help prevent infection because transmission of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease usually requires sticking to the skin and feeding for at least 24 hours,” explained Health Protection Director Laura Freeland. with the Department of Health. “Ticks must be carefully removed so that they remain intact, and their mouth parts do not cut under the surface of the skin. Pointed forceps are an effective tool to help remove ticks.”
Lyme disease is a preventable disease. If caught early, it can be successfully treated with antibiotics. Early symptoms of Lyme disease can appear within a few days or up to a month after an infected tick bite. Symptoms may include fever or chills, headache, muscle or joint pain, fatigue, a stiff neck, and swollen lymph nodes. Also, 70 to 80 percent of affected individuals develop a red, expanding rash that often looks like the target of a bull’s-eye. If Lyme disease is left untreated, it can develop into a more serious and long-term disease involving the heart, joints, and nervous system.
Anyone who develops symptoms after a tick bite should see a health care provider as soon as possible. Diagnosis of Lyme disease is based on recognition of the clinical signs and symptoms, as well as known exposure to ticks or a history of living or traveling to an area where ticks are likely to be present.
If you find a tick on the ground or one crawling on you unattached and feeding and you want to know if it’s a black tick, visit etick.ca for more information. This website accepts tick images and provides tick identification. The site is operated by Bishop University in Quebec and is linked to many other Canadian universities.
Although the risk of Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections remains relatively low, you can reduce your risk by taking precautions when enjoying outdoor activities. This is especially important if you frequent brush or woodland areas where ticks are most often found. Precautions include:
- Wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, tights, and closed shoes.
- Tuck your pants into your socks and wear light-coloured clothing, which makes it easier to spot ticks.
- Use insect repellent that contains DEET or Picaridin on your clothing and exposed skin.
- Shower within 1-2 hours of being outside and check your body for ticks while you shower.
- Routinely check pets for ticks and consult a veterinarian regarding long-term pet protection.
For more information about Lyme disease, please call the Durham Health Connection Line at 905-668-2020, 1-800-841-2729, or visit durham.ca/lyme. For the latest information on areas in Ontario where there is a frequent risk of Lyme disease, visit the Public Health Ontario website at publichealthontario.ca. To submit a tick image for identification, visit etick.ca.
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For more information, please contact the Health Department