Lyme disease is on the rise in Canada, increasing nearly six fold over the past few years. Due to the warming of our climate, ticks can now survive year-round in Ontario. Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected tick. In Ontario, black-legged ticks, commonly known as deer ticks, can carry the bacteria. These ticks are found in woodlands, tall grasses and bushes. If you get bit by a tick this summer, there’s no immediate cause for concern. Not all deer ticks carry Lyme disease and ticks that are removed within 24 hours rarely transmit infection. In addition, about 90 per cent of people infected with the bacteria that cause the disease will not develop major symptoms. You can help decrease your risk of getting Lyme disease by taking the proper precautions and learning more about the disease.
Here are the top four things you need to know about Lyme disease:
1. How to prevent Lyme disease
The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to avoid tick bites. “This is another circumstance where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound,” says Dr. Allison McGeer, Director of Infection Control at Sinai Health System’s Mount Sinai Hospital.
If you are visiting a woodland area, make sure to cover up and wear appropriate clothing such as hats, long-sleeved shirts and pants in light colours so ticks are easier to spot. Use insect repellent with the chemicals DEET or Picaridin. Always check yourself for ticks after you’ve been outdoors. Taking a shower and putting your clothes in the dryer after being outside will help ensure ticks don’t get indoors. Don’t forget to use treatments to protect your pets from ticks as well and check them for ticks.
2. Symptoms of Lyme disease
Symptoms of Lyme disease usually start one to two weeks after a tick bite, but can appear as early as three days or as long as 30 days after a bite from an infected tick. Most people experience mild flu-like symptoms. Some people may develop more serious symptoms, such as a rash (sometimes shaped like a bull’s eye), fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches and swollen lymph nodes. If Lyme disease is not treated at the early stage, a small number of patients can later develop arthritis, facial paralysis, persistent headaches, or irregular heartbeat weeks or months later. You should contact your doctor if you experience Lyme disease symptoms after being bitten by a tick or visiting a high-risk area.
3. Ways to treat Lyme disease
Almost all cases of Lyme disease can be successfully treated with two to four weeks of antibiotics. If you get bitten by a tick, use tweezers to pull it out gently. If possible, save the tick that bit you and bring it to your doctor. Let your doctor know how long you think the tick was attached to you and where you were when you were bitten by the tick. If you don’t develop any symptoms within a month after a bite, you don’t have to worry about infection.
4. Lyme disease in Ontario
Public Health Ontario has created this map which indicates some of the high risk areas for Lyme disease in Ontario. If you live in or are spending time outdoors in any of these areas, take extra precautions to reduce your chance of developing Lyme disease.