Reports of ticks in Toronto are on the rise this spring. Ticks carrying the bacteria for Lyme disease have been confirmed in three local parks – Rouge Valley, Morningside Park and Algonquin Island. Are you and your family at risk of Lyme disease? Toronto Public Health says the risk of acquiring Lyme disease in the city is low, but here’s the information you need to help keep your family healthy this summer.
Only the blacklegged tick – aka deer tick – spreads the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium that causes Lyme disease. Ticks can range from the size of a mustard seed to a sesame seed, depending on their age and how recently they have fed. They live in wooded areas, where there are lots of leaves on the ground and bushes, as well as in long grasses.
Yikes!!! I found a tick on me! Now what!?!
Above all, resist the temptation to swish the tick! Instead use a pair of fine tweezer to pull the tick out with a slow and steady upward motion, grasping the tick as close as possible to your skin.
A tick needs to be attached for 24 hours to transmit Lyme disease. So the goal is to remove the tick as soon as possible, with all of the tick’s mouth out of your skin, rather than leaving any part of the tick’s mouth behind.
Other things NOT to do. Do NOT douse the tick in peppermint oil, nail polish or vaseline. Do NOT burn the tick.
If the tick was on your skin and you are able, put it in a jar or bottle and take it to one of Toronto Public Health’s labs. With your help, this will allow them to advise residents which areas carry the greatest risk. They are also actively surveying throughout the city in spring and fall (when ticks are most active) in probable tick habitats. You can check out their findings from recent years here.
What does Lyme disease look like?
In the first 3 to 30 days, Lyme disease can be characterized by a distinctive “bullseye” pattern at the location of a tick bite. Within 3 to 4 weeks of a bite, the following symptoms may also appear:
- fever and chills
- stiff, achey joints and muscles
- overall fatigue
The bullseye may only appear in 70-80% of infected people, making diagnosis of the other symptoms challenging.
Early diagnosis and antibiotic treatment is key, and can prevent long-term complications. If you suspect you’ve been exposed by a tick to Lyme disease, see your doctor immediately.
I’m pregnant and worried I may have Lyme disease.
If you are pregnant and suspect you may have Lyme disease, see your doctor immediately. Early treatment with antibiotics appropriate to pregnancy is important. The CDC reports, “no serious effects on the fetus have been found in cases where the mother receives appropriate antibiotic treatment for her Lyme disease.” However, they do warn that untreated Lyme disease may potentially lead to infection of the placenta and possible stillbirth.
I’m breastfeeding – could I pass Lyme disease to my nursling?
The CDC has no reports of Lyme disease being transmitted through breastmilk. If you are diagnosed with Lyme disease let your doctor know you are nursing, so that a breastfeeding-safe antibiotic can be prescribed.
We love being outdoors now that good weather is finally here. How can I protect my family?
- Keep your family (including canine members!) out of long grasses. Keep your dog on leash in these areas.
- Stay to the centre of paths if you’re hiking in a wooded area.
- Wear long sleeves and pants, with light colours so that any ticks are visible.
- Use insect repellent that has been shown to work on ticks. Repellents with at least 20% DEET are recommended by health agencies, but you may choose a more natural product if that’s right for your family. Here’s evidence from the CDC on the efficacy of natural repellents to help you choose one that’s right for your family.
- Do a thorough check for ticks within 2 hours of returning inside, including hair, groin and underarms, and follow with a thorough shower or bath. Also inspect daypacks and carseats for any unwanted visitors who may follow you home.
- Don’t forget to check your dog for ticks after each walk. If possible, keep your dog on leash to keep them out of tick habitats like long grasses and wooded areas.
For more information: