Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease in North America and is an emerging public health threat in Canada. Due in part to climate change, tick populations have been spreading northward, increasing the rates of Lyme disease into Canada. While infected ticks can be found across the country, more infections are reported in eastern Canada and Manitoba. Regardless, all Canadians should be aware and take precautions to protect themselves.
Lyme disease occurs when you are bitten by a deer tick, sometimes known as a blacklegged tick (Ixodes species), which is infected with one of 19 species of bacteria in the Borrelia genus, known as the Lyme borreliosis group. If left untreated, Lyme disease can be fatal. Luckily with increased awareness and treatment, the symptoms can be significantly reduced.
The first signs of Lyme disease are fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, neurological complaints and cardiovascular problems. Other symptoms include nausea, fatigue and night sweats. The most recognizable symptom is a bull’s-eye rash, which can appear at the site of the bite within 3 to 30 days, although smaller rashes, blotches and blisters can occur within 3 to 5 weeks after being bitten. If you think you have been bitten by a tick and notice any of these symptoms, contact your healthcare professional immediately.
The best way to avoid getting bitten by a deer tick is to recognize when you may be at risk and taking measures to protect yourself. Deer ticks live in bushes, tall grassy fields, nature parks and woodlands. They feed on blood and are found in areas populated by deer, rodents and even birds. Not all ticks are infected with the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, however, it’s always better to be prepared.
You can prevent getting a tick bite by covering up with long sleeves and pants, and using an insect repellent containing DEET as its active ingredient. It also is recommended to double-check your skin and your pets after you have been in a potential tick habitat. It can take up to 72 hours for the tick to transfer the bacteria to you, so early tick detection and removal is very important. Ticks can also be found in urban areas and gardens, so keeping these precautions in mind is always advised.
If you find that you have been bitten by a tick, do not attempt to remove it by burning it! Instead, use fine tip tweezers or a tick removal device found in the Scout Shop, and place it around the tick. Be sure to get as close to your skin as possible. Gently pull the entire tick out, especially its head. Try not to crush the body during the removal. Thoroughly clean the bite wound with rubbing alcohol. If you don’t have any, use soap and water. Some home remedies suggest applying nail polish or using petroleum jelly to remove the tick, but avoid these treatments as they will lead to irritating the tick which may force more bacteria into you.
After removing the tick, put it in a secure container and give it to your healthcare professional. Learn more about Lyme disease from our Safety Tip. The key to Lyme disease is: Be aware, cover up, double check, and when in doubt, get help from a healthcare professional!