Ticks and Lyme Disease

Photo showing various sizes of ticks

What are ticks?

Ticks are a relative to the spider and are a crawling, non-flying insect. They vary in size and colour. Ticks are very small (1 to 5 mm) when unfed and female ticks get larger and change colour when feeding. Before feeding, they’re about the size of a sesame seed. When they’re full of blood, they can be as large as a grape.

Do ticks spread disease?

Yes. Ticks can spread diseases including Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Tularemia. Blacklegged ticks (Ixodes scapularis, formerly called deer ticks) spread the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. The bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi) are most likely to be transmitted after the tick has been attached to you for more than 24 hours (Ontario Ministry of Health and Long- Term Care).

What is Lyme Disease and should I be concerned?

Lyme Disease is a bacterial infection spread through the bite of a blacklegged tick. South Western Ontario is an established area for Lyme Disease, therefore, when going outdoors you and your family members should protect yourselves against ticks.

What are the symptoms of Lyme Disease?

Early symptoms of Lyme disease usually occur within one to two weeks, but can occur as soon as three days or as long as a month, after being bitten by an infected tick bite. Symptoms may include:

  • fever
  • headache
  • muscle and joint pains
  • fatigue
  • skin rash that looks like a red bull’s eye

Who is at risk of Lyme disease?

Anyone can get Lyme disease, but people who spend more time outdoors are at higher risk. These include:

  • hikers, campers, hunters, or other outdoor enthusiasts
  • people who live or work in an area near woods or overgrown bush
  • people who have outdoor jobs such as landscaping or brush clearing

Where are blacklegged ticks found?

Ticks are often found in the woods and the edge area between lawns and woods. Ticks can also be carried around by animals into yards, gardens and into houses.

In Ontario, known endemic locations for ticks and Lyme disease are:

When are blacklegged ticks most active?

Blacklegged ticks go through three life stages: larva, nymph and adult. Exposure to ticks can occur during the months of April to November with the nymphs being active in the late spring and early summer and the adults being active in the fall.

What can I do to protect myself?

  • Avoid walking in tall grass and stay on the centre of paths.
  • Shower within 2 hours of being outside.
  • Do a full body check after being outdoors.
  • Cover up. Wear long sleeves and pants.
  • Wear light coloured clothing to spot ticks easier
  • Tuck your pants into your socks and wear closed toed shoes.
  • Use insect repellent containing at least 20% DEET on exposed skin and clothing (read and follow directions).
  • Keep grass in your yard short.
  • Put a tick collar on your pets
  • Check pets after they come in from outdoors. (MOHLTC, 2015; PHAC, 2016)

What do I do if I’m bitten by a tick?

  • Promptly and properly remove the tick with a tick key or follow Public Health Agency of Canada's directions for removal with tweezers. (This can help prevent infection) DO NOT Squeeze it.
  • Gently wash the bite and surrounding area with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.
  • Do not dispose of the tick. Keep it in a container or a small plastic bag that can be sealed. Place a piece of damp paper towel in the container or bag.
  • Contact your health care provider.
  • Bring the tick into the health unit and we will send it away for identification.

What is being done about ticks and Lyme disease in Windsor - Essex County?

The Health Unit monitors local tick populations by using a combination of both active and passive surveillance.

Active Surveillance is when the Health Unit goes out to look for ticks, by carrying out tick dragging in wooded or grassy areas during Spring and Fall months. Tick dragging is performed twice yearly to identify areas in Windsor- Essex that have populations of blacklegged ticks. Ticks are harvested by dragging a white cloth mounted on poles through vegetation. The cloth is dragged at a moderate pace in a grid pattern for a minimum of 3 hours per collection site.

Passive Surveillance is when the Health Unit monitors ticks by having the public submit any ticks found on them to the Health Unit.

Tick Submission - The ticks that are collected during tick dragging or that are submitted to the Health Unit are sent to the Public Health Lab for identification. The tick is identified as a blacklegged tick is sent to the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg for further testing. Results usually take several weeks to come back after the process is initiated.

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit also follows up on Lyme disease cases.

Where can I bring the tick to be tested?

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit accepts ticks that are found on human bodies (we do not accept ticks found on animals) Monday – Friday, 8:30am to 4:30pm.

Please bring the tick in a closed sealed container, along with your health card. If you believe you are experiencing symptoms of Lyme disease, please visit your health care provider.

How many ticks did the Health Unit collect and send away in 2015?

There were 121 ticks submitted to the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit in 2015. Of these submissions, 11 were blacklegged ticks (vector for Lyme disease); 4 tested positive for Lyme disease causing bacteria (B. burgdorferi), 7 tested negative.

There were also 6 confirmed cases of Lyme disease reported in Windsor-Essex County in 2015.

What were the results of 2015’s tick dragging?

  • In May 2015, the tick dragging was completed at 3 sites: Holiday Beach, Oakwood Community Centre, and Ojibway Park. 3 blacklegged ticks (Ixodes scapularis) were harvested from Ojibway Park and all specimens tested negative for Lyme disease. No ticks were harvested at the other sites.
  • In October 2015, tick dragging was completed at 3 sites: 2 at Cedarwin Camp and 1 at Ojibway Park. No ticks were harvested at these sites.

Health Care Providers

Lyme Disease is reportable to the Medical Officer of Health by the next working day. Laboratories are required to fax lab confirmed case information to the Health Unit (by the next working day) to 226-783-2132.

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